How to quit smoking while pregnant?

Quit for the sake of your unborn child


So how does smoking affect your unborn child? Smoking in pregnancy has been shown to cause serious damage increasing the risk of stillbirth and premature birth in addition to increasing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or cot death.

It is important to remember that when you are pregnant, everything you put into your body affects the unborn child and if you are a smoker your baby will be exposed to over 4000 chemicals which include nicotine and carbon monoxide.

Smoking is not an easy addiction to quit but when it comes to the health of your baby, you must stop! If you smoke and have fallen pregnant by accident it is vital that you quit smoking within the first three months of your pregnancy; in this case, the risk of your baby being underweight is the same as that of a non-smoking woman. If however, you struggle to give up and manage to quit later in the pregnancy you still reduce the risk of having an underweight infant

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Why do some women smoke during pregnancy?

The majority of women are aware that smoking is bad for them and they smoke despite this but similarly, most women know that smoking is bad for their unborn child but they continue to smoke - why?

There are areas of the UK where, due to socio-economic factors and in areas of deprivation, the incidence of smoking in pregnant women is higher than in other areas.

The pressures of women in these areas may lead them to have priorities other than giving up smoking as well as maybe not having the access to the education they need to fully understand the risks. Whatever the reason, it is important not to judge!

So what are all the risks of smoking before, during and after pregnancy?

We have briefly mentioned a couple of the dangers associated with smoking and pregnancy but there is quite a list when you look more closely:

  • Getting pregnant - if you want to start a family but you are a smoker then the only real option is to quit whether you are a prospective mother or prospective father. Many people may not realise that being a smoker can affect fertility levels in both men and women
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth - most miscarriages occur in the first three months of pregnancy and on the odd occasion a miscarriage can occur later than twenty weeks; at this point, the loss of the baby is termed a stillbirth. Both types are more likely if you are a smoker and this has been related to the chemicals found in cigarettes
  • Ectopic pregnancy - this is where a fertilised egg implants in the fallopian tube or abdomen and it has been shown that nicotine can cause contractions in the fallopian tubes which can prevent the foetus from passing through. The embryo cannot continue to develop outside the uterus as it may prove dangerous for the mother and the foetus would not survive so the pregnancy has to be terminated
  • Placental abruption - smoking can put the placenta at risk, one of which is placental abruption. In this condition, the placenta separates from the uterus before the child is born which can cause serious bleeding which threatens the life of both the mother and child. The function of the placenta is to act as a ‘lifeline’ from the mother to the baby, supplying all nutrition and oxygen required and so it is vital to the health of the child.
  • Placenta previa - in a normal pregnancy, the placenta develops towards the top of the uterus which allows the cervix to be kept clear in preparation for childbirth. In placenta previa, the placenta develops lower in the uterus and obscures the cervix either totally or partially. There are a number of risks associated with this condition which include major haemorrhaging for the mother, reduced oxygen supply to the foetus and premature labour complete with all the risks that this entails
  • Premature birth - there are risks associated with a baby being born early and they include visual and hearing impairment, mental disability, learning difficulties, behavioural problems and other complications which may result in death
  • Low birth weight - when mothers smoke, they run the risk of giving birth to an underweight child. Low birth weight can lead to hearing or vision problems, developmental delay, cerebral palsy or death
  • Birth defects - the most common defects associated with smoking are congenital heart defects and structural problems with the heart; cleft lip and palate are also linked to smoking

You may be surprised to discover that smoking during pregnancy can affect your unborn child in so many ways but being aware of the risks you are running may be enough to convince you to quit now!

How to stop smoking in pregnancy?

Whether you are pregnant or not, the stages of giving up are the same and this is a brief outline of the steps that a person needs to go through when they give up smoking:

  • Make the decision to quit
  • Think long and hard about the times which you are going to find most difficult without a cigarette
  • The decision needs to be set solidly in the psyche and there must be no doubt in your mind that you will not smoke, whatever excuse you may come up with!
  • Prepare for nicotine withdrawal; this is an extremely difficult part of the process of giving up.
  • The last cigarette is exactly that, the last - you no longer smoke cigarettes
  • Consider how best to get through the first two or three weeks
  • Plan how you will go forward as a non-smoker when the nicotine has left your body

Prepare to quit

Prepare your surroundings as the time for quitting approaches. Some things you can do include:

  • Dispose of smoking related items such as ashtrays and lighters
  • Spring-clean the house. This will help to eradicate the smell of smoke
  • Be prepared with plenty of healthy snacks such as raw vegetables, fruit and nuts. This will give you something to do with your hands and mouth
  • For some people, chewing gum is a welcome distraction

It's all in the planning!

A large part of the planning process involves planning for nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and there is no good way to put it but nicotine withdrawal is not pleasant. The most important thing to remember is that withdrawal does not last forever and the first three days of withdrawal are the toughest; this is when the nicotine is actually leaving the body. From this point, the withdrawal symptoms will begin to subside until, within one to three months, they are gone. It takes a minimum of three months for the chemistry of the brain to return to normal.

So that you know what you can expect with nicotine withdrawal, symptoms can include:

  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Cough
  • Intense nicotine cravings
  • Tingling in the extremities
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and stomach cramps
  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat 
  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain

Another area to consider when preparing to give up smoking is being aware of potential triggers when the desire to smoke is likely to be heightened. Triggers can be almost anything but here is a list of examples:

  • Having an alcoholic drink
  • At social events, a party for example
  • Watching TV
  • Chatting on the phone
  • Diving
  • Having a break at work
  • With a cup of coffee
  • When feeling stressed
  • After having sex
  • Before going to bed
  • At the end of a meal

It is important to write a list of triggers that are personal to you and to then come up with a strategy to ‘diffuse’ any triggers so making them less powerful. Here are some suggestions:

  • Learn ‘stress busting ‘ techniques such as meditation
  • Take up a sport. This has a three pronged approach in that exercise will alleviate stress, it will take your mind off the need for a cigarette as well as being a good way to bring your fitness levels back up, negating the effects of smoking
  • Find something else to do with your hands
  • Stay out of the pub!
  • Instead of sitting in front of the TV, go for a walk or a run
  • Come up with a mantra that will remind you that the craving will pass quickly

Remember why you are quitting

If you are pregnant it has to be the best incentive you will ever have to quit the habit. This is going to be the most important reason you will have but there are others that you may think about. For every person, there will be reasons personal to them as well as some reasons that will be common to other quitters. Possible reasons will include:

  • Health concerns, maybe you lost someone close to you who died from smoking related illness
  • You are fed up with the dreadful smokers cough
  • Concerns about setting a poor example for your children
  • Inability to run for a bus without getting out of breath
  • Disliking the way your hair and clothes smell

These are only a few examples but it is important that you make the list. There will be times when you may say crazy things such as, ‘I don’t want to give up anyway’ and having a list of reasons on hand will help to reestablish your resolve

Get support

Emotional support from friends and family is a crucial part of the process of giving up and family, in particular, will have a vested interest in the health of the baby. If things are tough, give a friend a call or go for a walk with them.

Alternatively, there are support groups available as well as counselling therapy which your GP may be able to put you in touch with

There is also medication and nicotine replacement therapy that may be considered to help with the withdrawal process if you are unable to get through single handed.

Nicotine replacement therapy

NRT can be used during pregnancy if you are not able to get through without it. The addictive chemical nicotine is used in NRT but it does not have all the other dangerous chemicals which are found in tobacco and therefore it is a better option.
Forms of NRT include:

  • Nicotine patches
  • Nicotine chewing gum and tablets
  • Nicotine inhalers and sprays

Medication used to help a person give up smoking is not recommended during pregnancy


Nicotine is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult addictions to give up. In order to succeed, you will need to have good reasons and either being or wanting to be pregnant has to be the best reasons around.

It will still need a good degree of willpower and thorough preparation alongside help and support from your friends, family and healthcare professionals to give you the best chance of succeeding. You can do it, give up smoking now!

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