Some smokers still think it’s cool. Others just say they can’t kick the habit. Some want to smoke to keep their weight down. One thing we should all be able to agree on, though, is that smoking can’t be good for pregnant women–or their unborn children. Surprisingly enough, more than 10 percent of pregnant women smoke, according to the March of Dimes.
The U.S. Department of Public Health says that smoking leads to an increased risk for stillbirths and newborn deaths. Babies born to smokers tend to weigh less than other babies and have a higher risk for premature birth. Low birth weight or premature birth increase the risk for lifelong health problems such as cerebral palsy and heart defects, as well as developmental delays.
According to the March of Dimes, smoking can harm a fetus at any point in pregnancy. However, if the woman stops smoking within the first six months of pregnancy, her risk for a low birth weight baby improves to close to normal.
Smoking by partners and other family members may also affect a fetus. Partners can be supportive by quitting as well. According to the American Pregnancy Association, exposing a pregnant woman to secondhand smoke can increase the odds for low birth weight babies by 20 percent. After birth, infants surrounded by secondhand smoke may have a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome, asthma and other serious breathing problems.
The March of Dimes recommends that women stop smoking before they become pregnant. The evidence is clear that quitting smoking at any point during the first six months of pregnancy can help reduce damage to the fetus. The effects of quitting smoking after that point are not as clear, but it is always a positive health step.
Many smoking cessation programs involve nicotine patches or other substitutes. If you’re pregnant, check with a doctor before using one.