Giving Up Smoking
There’s no getting away from the fact that smoking is dangerous – it’s been scientifically proven again and again. If you’re a smoker then you’ll have seen the warnings on every cigarette pack you buy.
They’ll have told you that smoking is the single most harmful thing you can do for the health of your unborn baby. Smoking is also the biggest cause of avoidable health problems both during pregnancy and after your baby is born.
If either you or your partner smokes, the risks to you and your baby’s health are grave. It’s hardly a surprise when you consider just what’s contained in even a single puff.
Cigarette smoke contains around 4,000 noxious chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic (they cause cancer), including: Carbon monoxide – the same chemical that comes out of car exhaust pipes Ammonia – also found in oven cleaner Cyanide – one of the most lethal poisons there is Butane – the fuel in cigarette lighters Phenols – a group of chemicals used in paint strippers Tars – sticky cancer-causing chemicals that coat the insides of your lungs and which are also used in road surfacing.
When a person smokes, some of the oxygen in their bloodstream is replaced by the carbon monoxide in the smoke, so if a pregnant woman smokes, less oxygen can pass from her bloodstream to her baby. Nicotine also reduces blood supply through the placenta, whilst the other poisons in the smoke act to reduce the baby’s supply of nutrients.
As a result, babies born to mothers who smoke are more likely to be born prematurely and to have a low birth weight (on average 7oz or 200g lighter than babies born to non-smokers). Smoking while pregnant seriously and significantly increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, damage to the placenta and fetal abnormalities.
The risks of smoking to your baby’s health don’t just stop when your baby’s born. If you continue to smoke around your children, there are longer-term health risks too, because when a person smokes, anyone who comes into contact with that smoke (through passive smoking or in smoky environments such as pubs) is exposed to that same mix of deadly chemicals.
Your baby is twice as likely to die from cot death if you or your partner smokes. Children of smokers are ill more often than children of non-smokers, suffering in particular from illnesses such as middle ear infections, chest illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and respiratory problems such as asthma and wheezing.
Studies have shown that when tested at age five, seven and 11 years, children of heavy smokers had impaired growth and an increased likelihood of learning difficulties compared with children of non-smokers.
Added to which, smoking leads to long-term health problems for you too. Smoking increases your own risk of developing:
heart disease stroke lung cancer cancers of the bowel, throat, mouth, pancreas, kidney, breast and cervix bronchitis stomach ulcers.
A study of the effects of smoking over the period 1951 to 2001 has shown that non-smokers live on average 10 years longer than smokers. For you, that means 10 extra years to enjoy your children and to get to know your grandchildren.
How can I stop?
Giving up smoking isn’t easy but everyone who’s stopped says it was easier than they thought it would be. It takes time and willpower. Nicotine is highly addictive and it’s easy to lapse in moments of stress or to “just have one”. Methods such as acupuncture and nicotine replacement therapy (patches) can help but aren’t generally recommended for use during pregnancy. It’s important to discuss all the risks and benefits of these methods with your doctor. Counselling by qualified health professionals can really help you to quit: as a starting point try the NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline on 0800 169 9169.Above all, there’s no substitute for plain old guts and determination. If you think about all those health risks then planning a family is surely the biggest motivation to quit smoking there is, and quit for good. The instant you stop is the same instant you start increasing your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
When should I stop?
My advice is, first and foremost, never to start smoking in the first place. Secondly, my advice is that you should stop right now – today. If you or your partner is a smoker and you’re thinking of starting a family, you must both stop smoking at least three months before getting pregnant.