When you smoke, so does your baby. There is no safe level of smoking, either for you or your baby.
Smoking during pregnancy exposes your unborn baby to over 4,000 chemicals contained in cigarette smoke. If you smoke, protecting your baby from tobacco smoke is one of the best things you can do to give your child a healthy start in life.
How does smoking affect your pregnancy?
Smoking while you are pregnant can cause problems for both mum and baby. It increases your risk of:
- ectopic pregnancy (where the foetus develops outside the womb)
- bleeding during the last months of pregnancy, which can be life-threatening for you and your baby
- premature labour (start before 37 weeks) which can cause breathing, feeding and health problems
- your baby dying in the womb (also called stillbirth) or shortly after birth
- your baby being born with abnormalities such as a cleft lip or cleft palate.
Smoking affects the growth of babies in the womb. It reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients that pass through the placenta, from you to your baby. Babies born to mothers who smoke typically weigh less than infants born to women who do not. Smaller babies do not mean a shorter or easier labour. They can often have problems during and after labour. or example, they are more likely to have problems keeping warm and are more likely to get infections.
The long-term effects
The effects of smoking on your unborn baby can have long-term effects on their growth and development. Babies and children whose mothers smoke during pregnancy have a greater chance of:
- sudden and unexplained death (also called sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS)
- asthma, pneumonia, chest and ear infections
- behaviour problems such as ADHD.
How to quit
It's never too late to quit smoking. Stopping anytime during your pregnancy has great benefits for you and your baby. The earlier you stop smoking, the greater the benefit. Giving up smoking is difficult – there are many ways to get help and support.
Dedicated stop smoking services for pregnant women
If you want to stop smoking, your lead maternity provider will refer you to a dedicated smoking cessation service for support, such as:
- Kokiri Marae: Whanau Ora Hapu Mama Stop Smoking Service
- Tupu Service (Auckland) Auckland-based Pacific Island Alcohol and Drug (AOD) & Gambling Team
- National Addictions Treatment Directory
- Smokefree Beginnings Facebook group supported by Auckland DHB
There are lots of other great professional support groups out there. Read here for more support services.
Support of whānau and friends
Quitting smoking is easier when your friends and whānau are on board. It's helpful having someone to call to keep you motivated when you have those strong urges and cravings. If you have whānau and friends that don't want to quit or aren't ready to quit, make some rules like not offering you cigarettes and not leaving them lying around to tempt you. You can ask them to smoke outside, or not smoke around you at all.
You can use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) during pregnancy if it will help you stop smoking and you're unable to stop without it. Prescription medicines such as Champix (varenicline) or Zyban (buproprion) during pregnancy are usually not recommended.
When using NRT, you and your baby are still exposed to nicotine, but the nicotine is delivered at lower levels than smoking, without all the other harmful chemicals contained in cigarette smoke. NRT can help you by giving you the nicotine you would have had from a cigarette.
Speak to your healthcare provider or stop smoking adviser for advice.
- NRT medications are available in different forms such as chewing gum, lozenges or skin patches.
- Liquorice flavoured products should be avoided.
- If you have pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, patches may be a better solution. Patches should be used for a maximum of 16 hours per day.
Electronic cigarettes (also called E-cigarettes) are battery-operated cigarettes that turn chemicals, including nicotine, into vapour, which is then inhaled. They are becoming a popular alternative to smoking and are often used to assist with quitting smoking. However, vaping is not recommended during pregnancy as most e-cigarettes include nicotine as well as chemicals, flavours and other additives that may not be safe for your baby.
- Encouraging smoke-free pregnancies: the role of primary care BPAC, NZ, Feb 2013
- E-cigarettes Ministry of Health, NZ 2020
- Is vaping during pregnancy OK? Mayo Clinic, US, 2021