Tobacco & Pregnancy

Tobacco and Pregnancy… What are the risks?

In the past 50 years, there have been hundreds of thousands of tobacco-related fetal and infant deaths. Only one in four smokers quit during pregnancy and around 80% restart immediately after birth or within the first year. Smoking-related deaths of females have been on the rise.  If the current pattern continues, it is estimated by the year 2020, more than one million adult females will die from tobacco-related illness. To really grasp the effects of tobacco use on a pregnant woman’s body and on the developing fetus, it is important to know the ingredients of a cigarette and their effects on the human body.

Smoking-cigarettes-in-pregnancyA cigarette contains over 69 human and animal carcinogens, 11 of which are known to cause cancer in humans. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds. Many chemicals found in cigarette smoke can also be found in industrial and mechanical products, cosmetics, household cleaners, pesticides, batteries, explosives, fuels, and poisons, etcetera. Hydrogen cyanide is not only found in cigarette smoke, it is a chemical used in rat poison and prison executions. Benzene and arsenic are among the many toxins found in cigarette smoke, as well as traces of radioactive heavy metals like lead and polonium. Components of smoke transfer to the fetus and act as mutagens in fetal tissue.

Maternal cigarette smoking increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, placenta previa, placental abruption, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, premature rupture of membranes, and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Evidence suggests that nicotine causes more than 50% of all low-birth weight babies. Premature and low birth weight babies also have increased risk of cerebral palsy. Smoking through the first trimester increases the baby’s risk of congenital heart defects and continued smoking throughout pregnancy increases the risks of mental retardation by 50%

Smoking-during-pregnancy-can-harm-your-babyOf all toxins found in tobacco smoke, the two most dangerous compounds are nicotine and carbon monoxide. The immediate effects of nicotine include increased blood pressure, 
increased heart rate, 
thickening of blood, 
narrowing of arteries, 
decrease in skin temperature, 
increase in respiration, 
stimulation of the central nervous system, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The delayed effects include: high blood pressure, 
blockage of blood vessels, 
depletion of vitamin C, 
a weakened immune system; 
cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, and lungs; and cancer of the upper respiratory tract, 
bronchitis and/or emphysema, 
stomach ulcers, 
weight loss, and dehydration. When inhaled, nicotine reaches the brain within 10 seconds, constricting blood vessels throughout the body, including the vessels in the umbilical cord. Since nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, it not only constricts vessels in the umbilical cord, it decreases all placental and uterine blood flow as well. Nicotine crosses the placenta and enters the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby at much higher levels than the smoking mother. It then enters the baby’s bloodstream causing increased fetal heart rate and increased blood pressure. It negatively affects the developing nervous system, which then alters the entire orchestrated process of creation. Nicotine causes molecular and cellular changes that lead to changes in neuronal migration (a process in healthy brain development), cell structure, neurotransmitter dynamics, and overall brain formation. These alterations are likely associated with a whole range of cognitive and behavioral changes. The baby of a smoking mother is likely to have lifelong learning disorders, behavioral problems, and lower IQs.

smoking-during-pregnancyIn some studies, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is linked to exposure to carbon monoxide in the womb. A fetus has twice as much carbon monoxide in their blood as their smoking mother. The hemoglobin (red blood cells) that carry oxygen to the developing fetus begin to transport molecules of carbon monoxide instead, resulting in fetal hypoxia (reduction of oxygen supply). Carbon monoxide and oxygen compete for the same binding sites on hemoglobin, carbon monoxide having an extreme advantage over oxygen (approximately 240:1). Hemoglobin combined with carbon monoxide forms the compound COHb (carboxyhemoglobin). COHb will not release the carbon monoxide, and therefore hemoglobin will not be available to transport oxygen to the rest of the body or the developing fetus. Large quantities of COHb causes death, known medically as carboxyhemoglobinemia, (carbon monoxide poisoning) and in smaller quantities COHb leads to oxygen deprivation of the body resulting in tiredness, dizziness, and unconsciousness. Mild carbon monoxide poisoning includes headaches, vertigo, and flu-like symptoms; larger exposures can lead to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and heart. Chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide often leads to depression, confusion, and memory loss. Carbon monoxide paired with nicotine causes an effect similar to suffocation, especially in the womb where a fetus experiences a higher, more toxic level of carbon monoxide than its smoking mother. These toxins are the direct cause of unnecessary transplacental carcinogens impeding on the vital first months of a vulnerable human being’s life.

Nicotine affects the central control of breathing that is believed to cause SIDS. Placenta abruption has a 15-25% perinatal mortality rate due to complications like preterm delivery, fetal distress, maternal coagulopathy (blood clotting disorder), and ischemic injury to other organs. Placenta previa often leads to prematurity, placenta accreta, vasa previa, and hemorrhage. Placenta previa in smoking mothers has a mortality rate of about 81 in 1,000 births compared to non-smoking mothers at 10 in 1,000.

301843-premature-baby-harrison-clarkeWhen a baby is born prematurely, they are usually underweight and underdeveloped. The lungs of a preterm baby are likely to be immature, which means the baby will spend its first days or weeks on a respirator, separate from its mothers warmth, comfort, and breasts. A baby born to a smoking mother will have an increased risk of respiratory problems like asthma, as well as an increased risk of all forms of cancer. Childhood cancers, including acute lymphocytic leukemia and lymphoma, are more common in children born to smoking mothers. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow, affecting the production of healthy blood cells. The disease progresses rapidly and affects immature blood cells, specifically white blood cells. Lymphoma is a cancer beginning in the lymphatic cells of the immune system and presents as a solid tumor of lymphoid cells. Maternal smoking results in a toxic fetal life and causes severe lifelong effects for the woman and the new human created in her womb.

e009675l_ArticleImageIn hospital studies, babies born to mothers who used tobacco react in a manner similar to babies of mothers who used crack cocaine or heroin during pregnancy. A baby born to a smoking mother is said to go through a “nicotine withdrawal response” after birth. Their symptoms are similar to those experienced by adults.  Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include headache, anxiety, nausea, intense cravings, tingling in the hands and feet, sweating, cold symptoms (sore throat, coughing, etc), insomnia and/or fatigue, severe mood swings, confusion, irritability, depression, grief, dizziness, restlessness, and difficulty breathing. Withdrawal from nicotine after birth causes intestinal disorders like cramps, nausea, constipation and/or diarrhea. Babies born to smoking mothers are usually colicky and suffer from gas and severe gas pains. Many studies have concluded that babies exposed to cigarette smoke in the womb do not respond well to visual or physical stimuli. In these studies, the newborns were distressed, difficult to soothe, and had central nervous system and digestive system imbalances.

11_17If a woman chooses to quit smoking before or during pregnancy, the vibrancy in her quality of life will increase drastically. Within 20 minutes of her last cigarette, her blood pressure returns to normal, heart rate drops to normal, and the body temperature of her hands and feet increase to normal. Within eight hours of her last cigarette, the oxygen level in her blood increases to normal. Within 24 hours, the chance of heart attack decreases. Within 48 hours, nerve endings start to reform and the ability to smell and taste enhances. Within 48 to 72 hours, nicotine leaves her body completely. Within 72 hours, 
her bronchial tubes relax, making breathing easier and her lung capacity increases. Within two weeks to three months, circulation improves, walking becomes easier, and lung function increases up to 30%. 
Within one to nine months, coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath decrease and cilia then re-grow in her lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus and reduce infection. The body’s overall energy level increases when it is clear and rid of nicotine addiction. If all women see pregnancy as the perfect opportunity to quit smoking, all women and children will live happier, healthier lives. Pregnancy is the perfect opportunity to quit smoking for good, for the baby, for the mother, and for their future together as a healthy, vibrant family.


Why Quit?: The Benefits of Quitting Smoking and Staying Quit
Pregnant Women

A lot of changes happen during pregnancy, and that time of change can be the perfect time to quit smoking. Here are the benefits for you and your baby when you quit smoking and stay smoke-free:

For your baby:

  • Increases the amount of oxygen your baby will get.
  • Increases the chances your baby’s lungs will work well.
  • Lowers the risk that your baby will be born too early.
  • Increases your chances of having a normal-weight, healthy baby.
  • Increases the chances your baby will come home from the hospital with you.

For you:

  • Gives you more energy and helps you breathe more easily.
  • Saves you money that you can spend on other things.
  • Makes your clothes, hair, and home smell better.
  • Makes your food taste better.
  • Lets you feel good about what you’ve done for yourself and your baby.
  • Helps prevent heart disease and cancer, the leading causes of death in women.
  • Helps prevent colds and serious illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia.

New Moms

Bringing a new baby home is a time of much excitement, but it can also be stressful. If you quit smoking during pregnancy, it is still important to stay quit. If you are still smoking or have returned to smoking, it is never too late to quit – there are still many benefits for your health and the health of your baby.

Benefits for you:

  • Gives you more energy and helps you breathe more easily.
  • Saves you money that you can spend on other things.
  • Makes your clothes, hair, and home smell better.
  • Makes your food taste better.
  • Lets you feel good about what you’ve done for yourself and your baby.
  • Increases your choices of family planning methods.
  • Helps prevent heart disease and cancer, the leading causes of death in women.
  • Helps prevent colds and serious illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia

Benefits for your baby:

  • Helps keep your baby healthy.
  • Reduces the number of ear infections your baby will have.
  • Reduces the chance your baby will have asthma.
  • Helps prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Helps prevent colds and serious illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • If your baby was born too early, quitting smoking and staying smoke free is very important – premature babies are more susceptible to the problems listed above.




“The Dangers of Smoking During Pregnancy”: Article found on

“How Smoking During Pregnancy Affects You and Your Baby”: Article found on

“Dangers of Smoking During Pregnancy”: Article found on

“Pregnancy Health: Dangers of Smoking During Pregnancy” By Donna Reynolds, Article found on

“Maternal Smoking During Pregnancy on Newborn Neurobehavior: Neonatal Nicotine Withdrawal Syndrome”:

“Nicotine Withdrawal for Newborn Baby”: Article found on

“Ask The Doctor: Pregnancy and Nicotine Craving”: Article found on

“Cigarette Smoking, Pregnancy, and the Developing Fetus” By Krisa Van Meurs, MD (Associate Professor of Pediatrics Stanford University School of Medicine): Article found on

“Smoking During Pregnancy”: Article found on

“The Dangers of Smoking During Pregnancy” by Dennis Thompson Jr., Medically reviewed by Lindsay Marcellin, MD, MPH: Article found on

“Effects of Smoking While Pregnant: Dangers to Your Baby”: Article found on

One Comment on “Tobacco & Pregnancy

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