How does smoking affect pregnancy?

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Risks for Mother and Baby

Researchers do not yet fully understand how every chemical in tobacco smoke affects a growing baby, but they do know that the health risks are high. If an expecting mother smokes, she is more likely to have pregnancy complications that put both herself and the baby at risk. Such complications may be pelvic pain; early rupture of the membranes; placental problems (detachment, tearing, or slipping); stillbirth; premature births; and miscarriages. According to 2011 data accumulated from twenty-four states by the Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System, about 10 percent of women said that they had smoked during the final three months of their pregnancy.

Smoking while pregnant also puts the baby at a higher risk for serious complications, such as being born underweight, which is a sign that the baby has not adequately developed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014, one in every five babies of mothers who smoke while pregnant is born underweight. This puts the baby at high risk for serious health issues, including intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, and lung problems. Babies are also at a greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and developing attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.

It is also important to note that because the baby is exposed to nicotine through the placenta, smoking while pregnant can cause the baby to have nicotine withdrawal symptoms after birth. This can make the baby more jittery, nervous, and harder to soothe. The earlier an expectant mother stops smoking, the better it is for the baby and for the mother’s own health. Even shortly after stopping, an expectant mother will begin to recover. For example, within minutes, heart rate and blood pressure will drop. Within twelve hours, carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to normal (carbon monoxide decreases the level of oxygen in the body). Within just a couple of weeks, circulation and lungs improve their function.

In addition, smokers that breastfeed continue to pass chemicals like nicotine on to the baby through breast milk. Babies are also very susceptible to secondhand smoke. According to the American Lung Association in 2015, exposure to secondhand smoke causes 430 SIDS deaths in the United States annually.

Quitting Smoking

After an individual quits smoking, the body goes through withdrawal. The individual may experience symptoms such as dizziness, depression, headaches, tiredness, irritability, and sleep problems. Withdrawal effects, however, are temporary, and cravings can be overcome by simple distraction techniques. Some distraction techniques are participation in such activities as walking; relaxation methods, such as deep breathing; drinking water; nibbling on healthy snacks, such as vegetables and fruits; sucking on a hard piece of candy; investing time into a hobby; and simply talking with others who have successfully quit smoking.

In addition, certain programs and smoking cessation tools can help to gradually decrease nicotine levels. However, certain smoking cessation products such as nicotine gum or patches may not be safe to use while pregnant.


Anderson, Judith. It’s Your Health: Smoking. North Mantko: Smart Apple Media, 2005. Print.

"Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke." American Lung Association. Amer. Lung Assn., 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville: US Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2010. Print.

"Reproductive Health: Tobacco Use and Pregnancy." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, 9 Sept. 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings. Rockville: US Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2010. PDF file.

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