Smoking while pregnant. How much damage do cigarettes do to a fetus?Ceridwen Morris and Rebecca Odes
I used to smoke four cigarettes a day. When I found out I was pregnant last week, I cut down to one a day, and now I’m quitting completely. But I’m worried. Have I already done irreparable damage to my baby? – Smoked?
During the very early weeks of pregnancy, before a missed period, the embryo has not yet implanted in the uterus. So exposure to a drug or another teratogenic (fetus-damaging) substance at this time may prevent implantation (causing a miscarriage), but it will not cause birth defects. This is sometimes referred to as the all-or-nothing phase. The main well-known risks of smoking in pregnancy – pre-maturity/low-birth weight, miscarriage, stillbirth – are not related to birth defects per se, but we mention the above just to reassure you that the first days after conception aren’t a particularly high-risk time. We don’t know how far into your pregnancy you were when you found out. If you discovered you were pregnant very close to your missed period, you nicked the nic habit in the nick of time. And even if you found out later, every day without smoking decreases chances for any negative consequences for your baby. According to the American Lung Association, if you stop smoking within the first three or four months of pregnancy, you lower the baby’s risk of low birth weight and other health problems.
Some of the effects of smoking on pregnancy may still be unknown. We are starting to learn more about the impact of smoking fathers, for example. In an ideal world, people would stop smoking before they got pregnant. But more often, it’s pregnancy itself, not just the plan, that inspires the quitting. (That was true for us, anyway.) The good news is that many women find smoke repulsive during pregnancy, which can take the edge off cravings (or at least smother them in queasiness). It can take a few weeks for smoke aversion to kick in, and it’s not universal. But with luck you’ll be able to ride the waves of nausea into a smoke-free lifestyle. Otherwise, there are some resources to help you quit. Good work with the resolution, and good luck with your pregnancy. Chances are great that your baby will be just fine.
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