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Smoking, Alcohol, And Pregnancy

Smoking During Pregnancy

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 15:11

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

In 2000, 12.2% of mothers reported having smoked during pregnancy. This means that smoking is the most common addiction among pregnant women in the U.S. In fact, only 20% of women who smoke quit during a pregnancy.

It is not uncommon for smokers to reduce their use of cigarettes during pregnancy, but reducing the number of cigarettes smoked in a day does not necessarily reduce the amount of nicotine, tar, and other poisons consumed. For many people, reducing the number of cigarettes simply leads to an increase in the number of puffs or the depth of inhalation, so that the same amount of nicotine (the addictive substance in tobacco) is delivered.

When you inhale a puff of cigarette smoke, you inhale tar (which contains cancer-causing substances), nicotine, and carbon monoxide (a clear, poisonous gas).

  • Tar stains your teeth, clothing, and fingernails, and coats your lungs.
  • Nicotine causes changes in your brain and can damage nerve cells.
  • Carbon monoxide competes with oxygen for a place on the transport molecule hemoglobin (a protein that typically binds with oxygen, and gives your blood its red color), reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This actually reduces the amount of oxygen that can be carried to organs and tissues in the body and makes your heart work harder.

Long-term smoking causes death from one or more of a number of diseases:

  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women. More women die every year from lung cancer than from breast cancer.
  • Cancers of the voice box (larynx), oral cavity, windpipe (trachea), pancreas, bladder, kidney and cervix have all been associated with smoking.
  • Bronchitis is a lung disease defined by inflammation of the air passages, a build-up of mucus or phlegm, and a chesty cough. In 1999, 6.2 million women were diagnosed with chronic (long-term) bronchitis.
  • Emphysema is a lung disease in which the damaged lung tissue acts like a soggy sponge so that the lungs cannot inflate properly. In 1999, 1.2 million women were known to have been diagnosed with emphysema during their lifetimes.
  • Heart disease and diseases of the blood vessels (cardiovascular disease) are more common in women who smoke than in those who don't. Research indicates that women who smoke and also use hormonal contraceptives have a particularly high risk of developing heart disease or blood clots that can lead to stroke.

Smoking is also associated with illnesses and conditions which are not necessarily life threatening. To name just a few examples, can aggravate the condition of those suffering from asthma, irritate the eyes, and has been associated with loss of skin tone and the development of wrinkles!

Need To Know:

So-called "second-hand" smoke also poses health risks to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. Regular exposure to second-hand smoke poses all of the same health risks (to a woman and her unborn child) as active smoking, but to a lesser degree

How Does A Mother's Smoking Affect Her Unborn Baby?

A general rule of pregnancy is this: if you eat it, drink it, or breathe it, so does your unborn child. All nutrients, drugs, and chemicals in a pregnant woman's bloodstream are transferred to the baby through the placenta and umbilical cord. These structures do not filter out harmful substances, like the carbon monoxide and nicotine inhaled as you smoke. If you smoke while pregnant, the toxins you inhale will be passed directly into the bloodstream of your unborn baby. Together, nicotine and carbon monoxide significantly reduce the amount of oxygen the baby's blood.

The health consequences for the growing baby are serious. The major effect is reduction or retardation of normal growth; babies born to smoking mothers usually have a lower birthweight than those born to non-smoking mothers.

Low birthweight babies have a higher mortality-death-rate at birth and in the first 6 months after birth. Low birthweight babies are also at higher risk for serious complications and illness, including breathing disorders, as newborns. They may require specialized medical care in a newborn intensive care unit (NICU).

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, also known as crib death) is more common in babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. Growth retardation may also continue, so that children of smokers may be physically smaller than children of non-smokers. Intellectual and behavioral development may also be affected as the child grows.

Smoking mothers have a higher rate of miscarriage than non-smokers and are also more likely to deliver their babies prematurely. Premature babies are typically quite small with low birthweight, and may also have underdeveloped lungs and brains. These babies have an even poorer chance of survival in the early months after birth. Other pregnancy complications that have been linked to smoking include placental complications, infections of the uterus, and premature rupture of the membranes.

Need To Know:

The affects of smoking on the child do not end with the pregnancy. Smoking in the home (by parents or other caregivers) has been found to be associated with increased respiratory (breathing) illnesses in babies in their first year of life.

Can Women Give Up Smoking?

The number of women who smoke has been falling steadily in recent years. No one can deny that quitting smoking it is a difficult process. Even so, many women give up smoking for good during pregnancy. Women who give up smoking early in pregnancy and who receive encouragement from their partners and from midwives are most likely to be successful in becoming permanent non-smokers.

For more detailed information about how to quit smoking, go to Smoking: How To Stop.

Smoking, Alcohol, And Pregnancy