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Giving up smoking

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Smoking during pregnancy is arguably the cause of the greatest number of preventable health problems at birth and in early childhood. According to Government estimates, one in four pregnant women smoke and up to 400 babies a year are stillborn, or die about the time of birth, as a result.

The carbon monoxide contained in cigarettes will reduce your baby’s supply of oxygen, as will nicotine by narrowing the blood vessels in the placenta. Nicotine will also make your baby's heart beat faster.

Babies whose mothers smoke are often born with a low birthweight, making the baby more vulnerable, or are born prematurely, which again reduces their chances of survival without damage.

Even after the birth, the problems are not over. Babies of smokers show an increased risk of cot death and studies from Bristol University show that the longer a mother-to-be smokes, the more likely her child is to wheeze or become breathless in its first six months. But if you decide to stop, your baby will immediately feel the benefit as its environment becomes toxin free.

How to get help

For the sake of your baby and yourself it's important to give up or, if you find this impossible, cut back on the number of cigarettes you smoke. Though cutting back is not ideal, anything that reduces the amount of toxins your baby receives from cigarettes is better than carrying on as before.

If you can stop smoking you can protect your baby from real harm - some research indicates that if a woman quits before pregnancy or within the first trimester, her baby will weigh the same as a woman who has never smoked. Here's how you can get help in giving up:

• Talk first to your midwife or doctor, pharmacist or health visitor. Not only does it help strengthen your resolve to tell others about your intention to quit, but many surgeries run programmes that will help you kick the habit.

• Do not try nicotine patches, gum, herbal cigarettes or any other over-the-counter nicotine substitutes without a doctor’s prescription; these have not been tested on pregnant or breastfeeding women so are not something to try independent of medical supervision.

• Try and find other activities that will take your mind off the urge to smoke. Exercising, yoga or meditation may help.

• Get in touch with your local NCT branch. NCT antenatal classes can be a source of support on all aspects of preparing for your baby's birth and you may find others are in the same boat as you are. See the home page for details of how to register for classes or find your nearest branch.

• Call Quitline on 0800 002200 - it's a free service which can provide information on giving up smoking during pregnancy and also offers a ‘telephone call back' system to support you during your opportunity to quit.