The real risks of smoking when pregnant

What are the facts about smoking in pregnancy? It’s been known for a long time that smoking while pregnant can be harmful for both mother and baby. Cigarettes increase the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood stream, and reduce the amount of oxygen available to the growing baby. Cigarettes also contain over 4,000 potentially damaging chemicals. Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, and can also increase the chance of having a pre-term birth and low birth weight baby.

Babies born to smokers are on average 200g lighter than those born to non smokers. The more cigarettes you smoke, the greater the risks to the unborn child. New research, published on 7 March 2012, has shown a dramatic change in pregnancy outcomes in Scotland linked to the ban on smoking in public places, with a decrease in both pre-term babies and small-for-dates babies linked to a decrease in smoking in pregnancy. Interestingly, improvements were also seen in women who didn’t smoke, suggesting that reducing exposure to secondhand smoke in pubs and other public places is having a beneficial effect.

The sooner you give up, the better. But stopping in the last few weeks of pregnancy can still benefit the baby – both before and after birth. Though giving up smoking is never easy, the stress of giving up is far less harmful to both mother and baby than continuing smoking. Tell everyone you are giving up – and ask them for support in helping you beat the cravings. Ask your partner to give up too – not only will it help you, but his secondhand smoke can harm the baby. It’s usually best to completely stop, rather than trying to cut down slowly – research shows that people who cut down smoke more of each cigarette, so the amount of harmful chemicals in the body remains the same. Avoid going to places, such as friends’ houses, where you might be tempted to smoke.

When you give up you are likely to develop a cough, as your body clears the rubbish you have inhaled out of your lungs. Be prepared for this, and don’t be tempted to start smoking again! Take it one day at a time, and cross off each day that you manage not to smoke on a large calendar. It can also help to physically put the money you would have spent on cigarettes into a large glass jar, so you can see the savings piling up. Either plan on treating yourself, or your new baby.

The NHS offers lot of free help, support and advice to anyone who wants to give up. Expectant mums can phone the special NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline tel 0800 1699 169. You can also get a free DVD, which has advice on how to stop. Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), such as patches, gum or inhalers can be helpful if you are finding quitting difficult, and can be used during pregnancy. Nicotine alone is far less harmful than cigarettes, and gradually reducing the amount of NRT you use can ease the cravings of nicotine withdrawal. You can get NRT free on prescription from your GP or practice nurse, and both will be happy to help you.

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