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Smoking and pregnancy

Whether you’re pregnant, or thinking about getting pregnant, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for the health of both you and your baby. In terms of getting pregnant, smoking can make it harder to fall pregnant naturally, and can also affect the success of fertility treatments. If you are already pregnant, smoking increases the risk of complications with your pregnancy, and can affect your baby’s development.

While you may feel there’s a lot of pressure around you to quit, you can find the support you need whatever stage you’re at. Quitting smoking early on in pregnancy or before you get pregnant is best. Quitting at any time gives your baby a better chance of a healthy start in life.

Effects of smoking during pregnancy

Smoking while pregnant harms not only you, but your baby as well. As your baby develops, blood flows through the umbilical cord to provide the food and oxygen your baby needs. So when you smoke, it has an immediate effect.

With every cigarette, some of the oxygen in your bloodstream is replaced with carbon monoxide, which reduces the amount of oxygen your baby receives. As smoking also affects how the placenta forms, the nutrients your baby receives are also reduced. And all those harmful chemicals that you breathe in when you smoke? They are absorbed into your bloodstream, which is then shared with your baby.

Smoking during pregnancy creates risks for you, your pregnancy and your baby. These can include:

  • Miscarriage
  • Complications with your pregnancy, such as ectopic pregnancy, problems with the placenta, and pre-eclampsia
  • Complications during birth
  • Your baby being born too early and not fully developed, or being born underweight and at higher risk of delayed development or disease
  • Your baby having birth defects such as a cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Your baby dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Your baby having feeding problems and being harder to settle
  • Your baby having middle ear infections or permanent hearing impairment
  • Your baby suffering long term damage to the lungs, brain and blood, leading to complications such as asthma or pneumonia
  • Your baby having a weaker immune system
  • Your baby being overweight or obese in childhood.

What if your partner smokes? Even if you don’t smoke, breathing in second-hand smoke from your partner means you and your baby face the same level of risk as if you were a smoker.

Effects of smoking while trying to fall pregnant

When trying to fall pregnant, smoking can affect the fertility of both you and your partner. This means not only is it harder to fall pregnant, it can also make fertility treatments less effective and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) less successful.

Each stage of the reproductive process is affected by smoking. Toxins in smoke can harm both sperm and eggs and can damage the DNA held within them. Affecting fertility, smoking — or breathing in second-hand smoke — can mean it takes longer to get pregnant, while creating a higher risk of not getting pregnant, despite trying.

With that being said, as soon as you or your partner stop smoking, your fertility begins to improve. Quitting smoking gives you immediate health benefits, not only increasing your chances of conceiving, but giving your baby the best start.

Effects of smoking after pregnancy

After quitting smoking during pregnancy, you may be tempted to start again after your baby is born. If you are breastfeeding, smoking during this time could lower your supply, while also putting your baby at risk of being exposed to nicotine through your breast milk, potentially affecting your baby’s development.

It’s also worth thinking about how you or your partner’s smoking could affect the health of your child. Children breathe faster than adults, which means they inhale more chemicals when they are exposed to second-hand smoke.

This can put them at greater risk of asthma, poor lung development and respiratory illness, SIDS, middle ear infections, and behavioural problems such as ADHD. Children of smoking parents may also experience slower growth and learning difficulties and are more likely to become smokers themselves.

Why quit?

Quitting smoking when pregnant, or while trying to fall pregnant, is just as tough as quitting smoking at any other time. Now though, you have the added incentive of your baby to keep you motivated.

If you quit before getting pregnant, or during the first three months of pregnancy, you can:

  • Reduce the risk of complications during the birth, while also lowering the risk that your baby will be born too early.
  • Increase the likelihood of your baby having a healthy birth weight, while reducing their chance of suffering illness in their early years, or death at or after birth.

If you quit smoking later in pregnancy, you can:

  • Give your baby a better chance of having a healthy birth weight.
  • Provide your baby with the opportunity to practise their breathing movements in preparation for birth.

Getting support while quitting

When quitting smoking in pregnancy, having a support network around you can make your journey that much easier. Get your friends and family involved, so you can talk to them when needed. You can also ask them to be patient with you as you deal with withdrawal symptoms. If any of your friends and family smoke, ask them not to smoke around you.

You can also look to outside support for help. Your GP and midwife should be able to provide you with information and advice, whether you’re ready to quit or not sure. Quitline has a free specalised support program available to women and their partners before, during and after their pregnancy. Call 13 78 48 for more information.

Using NRT while pregnant

Combined with support, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products can lead to higher success rates when quitting. However, not all NRT options can be used during pregnancy. Before using NRT, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor or pharmacist, and be sure to tell the doctor or midwife supervising your pregnancy before you start.

When you are pregnant, the nicotine lozenge, mouth spray, gum or inhaler tend to be a better option than the nicotine patch. With that being said, if you are suffering from nausea or sickness, you may prefer using a patch. If using a 24-hour patch, remove it before bed and put a fresh one on each day, choosing a different place on your body for 4-5 days before using the same place again.

Medications prescribed for quitting, such as bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Champix), are not recommended during pregnancy.

Tips for quitting smoking during pregnancy

While quitting during pregnancy may mean you’re not able to make use of the full range of quitting aids, there are other things you can do to increase your chances of success.

  • If you feel you need to speak to someone, Quitline counsellors are there to help, providing anything from a friendly ear, to advice and tips.
  • Try gentle exercise, such as walking, swimming or supervised yoga. Not only should this help you keep your mind off your cravings, it will also make you feel better after getting your body moving.
  • If your partner or those around you smoke, encourage them to quit with you, or to only smoke outside.
  • When you have the urge to smoke, remember the 4Ds: Delay and let the urge to smoke pass, Deep breathe, Do something else to take your mind off your craving, and Drink water to take time out.
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