Women's  Healthcare Topics is a website about pregnancy and your newborn baby.

Smoking and Pregnancy Complications

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Smoking is Associated with Many Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes

Learn about the risks of smoking in pregnancy.

Smoking is perhaps one of the most dangerous habits a woman can engage in during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to many different complications and serious health problems for your newborn baby.

It is estimated that approximately 25% of American women smoke during their reproductive years. Many women who smoke prior to pregnancy continue to smoke during and after their pregnancies.

Many harmful effects have been associated with smoking. The nicotine and carbon monoxide found in cigarette smoke for example has been associated with many adverse pregnancy outcomes including:

  • Low Birth Weight Babies

  • Preterm Delivery

  • Premature Rupture of Membranes (PROM)

  • Placental abnormalities/problems

  • Increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Women who smoke during pregnancy are 3.5 times more likely to delivery a low birth weight baby (defined as a baby less than 5.5 pounds) during pregnancy. Third trimester smoking has been shown to have the greatest impact on the growth of the fetus. Low birth weight babies may not function as well as their fuller figured counterparts.

Preterm delivery (defined as labor and delivery at less than 37 weeks) is also 2.5 more likely among women that are smokers. Premature rupture of the membranes or PROM is much more common in women who smoke, and can lead to low birth weight or preterm delivery. PROM puts a woman and her baby at increased risk for infection and other labor and delivery complications.

Smoking also increases the risk of developing among other things, placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterine wall prior to delivery, which can be a life threatening condition for both mother and baby. Placenta previa is also much more common among women who smoke, and can result in blood loss and hemorrhaging.

How to Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking during your pregnancy is the most important thing you can do for your health AND the health of your newborn baby. Fortunately there are many resources available to help you overcome your cigarette smoking habit during pregnancy.

If you are a smoker you should consult with your healthcare provider, who can refer you to a smoking cessation program and offer you suggestions for ways to quit.

Women who smoke are much more likely to succeed if they have the support of friends and family that understand the harmful effects of smoking during pregnancy, and if they have the support of a partner who doesn't smoke.

Women who have tried to stop smoking before pregnancy are much more likely to succeed than those who have not. Replacements for cigarette smoking, such as nicotine replacement are controversial, and should only be used if your physician recommends it after other attempts have failed.

The most important thing to remember is that you be honest with yourself and your healthcare practitioner, so that you receive the care and support you need to quit smoking safely and effectively throughout your pregnancy.

Fortunately, the prospect of having a healthy, well nourished and beautiful baby is enough incentive for most women to stick with a stop smoking program throughout the course of their pregnancy.

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