Whether you’re trying to conceive or are already pregnant, now is the best time to give up smoking.
By Gabrielle Nathan
Smoking during pregnancy is the biggest cause of pregnancy problems and loss but it’s one that you have the power to change. We speak to Jane Scattergood, Midwifery Adviser at Public Health England and other experts, about how to quit smoking for the benefit of both mother and baby.
Smoking as a mum-to-be is ‘harmful to both the mother and her unborn child,’ says Scattergood. Giving up can be hard to do, so we ask experts and real-life ex-smoker mums for their advice on how to stop smoking.
1. Quitting makes you more likely to conceive
According to charity Tommy’s, women who smoke are twice as likely to be infertile as non-smokers, because smoking adversely affects the womb lining.
But stopping smoking improves the lining of the womb, increasing your chance of getting pregnant. ‘Smoking can impact on fertility, so quitting may help with becoming pregnant,’ explains stop smoking expert, Louise Ross.
2. Quit, don’t cut down
‘Every cigarette you smoke releases more than 4,000 chemicals into your bloodstream via your lungs. That blood flows to the placenta and umbilical cord, right into your baby’s body, causing the baby to struggle for oxygen,’ says Ross.
Smoking can impact on fertility, so quitting may help with becoming pregnant.
‘It can also impact on the baby’s heart as one of the chemicals found in cigarettes is carbon monoxide, which restricts the supply of oxygen essential for a baby’s healthy growth and development. It will cause a baby’s tiny heart to pump even harder, which is very distressing for baby,’ she adds.
‘Crucially, the exposure to these poisons can last up to 15 minutes with each and every cigarette smoked, so cutting down on your smoking rather than quitting completely will still have a harmful effect on your baby.’
3. Take advantage of your raised metabolism
‘Most pregnant women can use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) which is safer than smoking because it doesn’t contain poisons like tar or carbon monoxide, but it’s important to talk to your doctor or midwife before beginning,’ says Ross.
It’s worth nothing that, when prescribed, NRT products such as gum, inhalators, sprays, lozenges and patches are free during pregnancy.
‘Patches work particularly well for pregnant women because their metabolism is higher due to their extra blood volume. In pregnancy, the body metabolises nicotine far quicker than normal so the nicotine in the skin patches can be effective in as little as 48 hours,’ says Rachael Garrett, specialist midwife for smoking cessation at Buckland Hospital, Dover and member of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
4. Have a back-up plan
‘While NRT patches help avoid the nicotine highs and lows associated with cigarettes, there will inevitably be moments of stress in a pregnant woman’s day when a patch alone may not be enough,’ reveals Garrett.
‘So I always prescribe lozenges, gum, spray or an inhalator which can be used to answer their nicotine demand at a crucial time,’ she adds.
5. Support is vital
‘You’re four times more likely to quit if you receive one-to-one support,’ says Garrett, who runs smoking cessation clinics specifically for mums-to-be.
Ross agrees: ‘No matter what level of smoking dependency people have, some face-to-face support will increase their chances of quitting successfully.’
She points out that while smoking in pregnancy specialist midwives are available in some areas, local stop smoking services, pharmacies and GPs are also great places for mums-to-be to receive help to give up.
6. It’s never too late to quit
Worried that you’ve run out of time? ‘Stopping smoking early in pregnancy can almost entirely prevent damage to the baby,’ says Scattergood.
‘Research shows that if you can stop smoking by 13 weeks, there won’t be any growth implications for your baby, although obviously the earlier you give up, the better,’ continues Garrett.
But even if you’ve gone almost the entire way through your pregnancy without giving up, ‘quitting 48 hours before birth is beneficial, since nicotine and carbon monoxide cause vasoconstriction that can limit blood supply to the placenta and birth canal, increasing the chances of stillbirth and impede healing of wounds.’
7. Use visualisation
‘I really struggled to give up smoking at the start of my pregnancy, even though it made my morning sickness worse,’ says Louise Jodka, who is currently in her first pregnancy.
‘Then a midwife explained to me that every time I light up, I’m effectively starving my baby of oxygen,’ she adds. ‘She taught me to visualise my baby’s cord being clamped whenever I crave a cigarette, to build an association between smoking and harming my baby. It’s a powerful image and one that’s proved effective as I’ve not had a cigarette in nearly two weeks.’
8. Know the stats
Smoking during pregnancy causes up to 2,200 premature births, 5,000 miscarriages and 300 perinatal deaths every year in the UK.
‘It also increases the risk of complications in pregnancy and the child developing a number of conditions later on in life, such as premature birth, low birth weight, respiratory conditions, problems of the ear, nose and throat, diabetes and obesity,’ explains Scattergood.
Smoking while you are pregnant also increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death (or cot death) by at least 30 per cent. For mum-of-three Sarah Walford, knowing this was enough to make her give up smoking for good.
‘After I saw the blue line on the pregnancy test, I never smoked again,’ says Walford. ‘The thought that I may be causing damage to my baby was powerful enough to make me stop straight away and motivated me to stay smoke-free, even when my cravings were strong.’