By Dr Vimal Grover
Wondering whether smoking during pregnancy is safe and what are the long term effects of smoking while pregnant? Smoking is dangerous to the health of the baby and for the pregnant woman. It is advisable to quit smoking before conception or as early in pregnancy as possible. A grave problem that can happen to the developing baby involves craniofacial abnormalities i.e. birth defects of the face, mouth and lips. There is a higher risk of growth retardation and preterm delivery. Nicotine in tobacco products can damage a developing baby's brain and lungs also. Smoking can cause difficulty in conceiving, sub-fertility or infertility. Even secondhand smoke is now classified as a group A carcinogen. That means it's known to cause cancer in humans.
Long term effects of smoking while pregnant
The long term effects of smoking during pregnancy include the following:
- Smoking increases a mother's heart rate and her blood pressure. This means that It increases the carbon monoxide in her bloodstream, thereby decreasing the oxygen levels in her blood. In effect, this means that the baby also gets less oxygen and thereby, suffers harmful consequences
- Miscarriage and stillbirth
- Small placenta
- Intrauterine growth retardation
- Ectopic pregnancy can happen. Nicotine causes contraction in the fallopian tubes thus preventing fertilized eggs from reaching the uterus resulting in ectopic pregnancy
- Placental abruption: Smoking is a major risk factor for complications related to the placenta. This is a condition in which the placenta separates from the uterus before delivery of the baby. It requires immediate admission and there may be early delivery of the baby depending upon the severity of bleeding.
Another serious placental problem that can happen because of smoking is placenta previa. This means the placenta develops in the lower part of the uterus which can separate before birth causing excessive bleeding and pregnancy loss or preterm delivery and in majority of cases delivery takes place by cesarean section.
Preterm delivery and low birth weight babies are seen in the majority of women who smoke during pregnancy. There are numerous health risks associated with preterm birth like neuro-developmental abnormalities, complications resulting in death of fetus, visual and hearing impairments in newborn. Low birth weight babies can also face developmental delay, cerebral palsy and hearing and visual impairment.
Birth defects include:
- Congenital heart defects
- Other structural heart abnormalities
- Craniofacial abnormalities, cleft lips and cleft palate.
Post-delivery-sudden infant death syndrome is higher in women who smoke during pregnancy.
Quitting smoking during pregnancy
Quitting smoking is tough but women need to be convinced about its health benefits and that it is doable. Quitline coaches are available to help women with a plan and provide support. Healthcare activities to educate pregnant women or women who are planning a pregnancy about the harm of tobacco use and very helpful in motivating women to quit smoking. Even secondhand smoking affects pregnant women in the same way as smoking by themselves, so it is important to avoid secondhand smoking also.
Quitting smoking at any stage of pregnancy has health benefits for both mother and baby. Avoiding smoking increases oxygen availability to the baby's lungs and helps them to develop well.
E-cigarettes are also not harmless. The nicotine in e -cigarette is harmful for developing babies. Keep in mind that there is no safety in smoking.
(The columnist is Director-Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Fortis La Femme. Views expressed are the author's own.)
(Disclaimer – The article is for information purpose only. Consult a doctor/medical professional/expert before starting any treatment/therapy.)