Everybody knows that smoking is bad for you, and even worse for your baby during pregnancy, but what does “bad” really mean? Besides a hacking cough and some long-distance running troubles, it’s tough to physically notice the damaging effects of cigarettes on adults because they take place over such a long period of time. The effects of cigarette smoke on a developing baby though take place over just 8 to 9 months (or less, because smoking increases the chances of preterm birth) and are oftentimes extremely clear.
The risks of smoking during pregnancy are numerous, and go beyond what’s included in this list. Many risks of smoking during pregnancy are also highly related to one another. Some of the major ones include:
Increased fetal heart rate
A developing baby’s heart rate usually falls between 110 and 160 beats per minute (bpm), but babies of moms who smoke have a greater chance of developing a heart rate higher than what is considered healthy. This is known as tachycardia, and it’s generally considered a problem when the heart rate exceeds 170 bpm. If your baby has a sustained high heart rate, it could raise the chances that you’ll need a C-section.
Lower amount of oxygen
Smoking constricts blood flow to the uterus, which means there’s less oxygen delivered to babies of smokers than to those of non-smokers. If the oxygen levels are still low before and during birth, there’s a risk of birth asphyxia, which can cause physical harm to the brain. Even if there’s no birth asphyxia, children whose moms smoked during pregnancy often display other developmental delays later in life.
Smoking during pregnancy greatly increases the chances of developing placental problems, like placenta previa, or a placental abruption. Placenta previa can cause serious bleeding and force an early delivery, while a placental abruption can also lead to serious bleeding as well as reduced oxygen and nutrient-flow to your baby.
Increases chances of miscarriage and stillbirth
Miscarriage and stillbirth are both very connected to smoking during pregnancy, due to many of the reasons listed in this article, like low oxygen, high heart rate, and other factors. One study published in the journal Human Reproduction asserts that women who smoke heavily during pregnancy are at least twice as likely to miscarry.
Heightens risk of premature birth, low birth weight
Pregnancy complications that result from smoking will often result in premature births and low birth weights, but even women who do not suffer from a complication can notice these effects, due to the lower oxygen levels in the blood, among other factors.
Increases chance of baby respiratory problems
Smoking contributes similarly to respiratory problems in babies as it does in adults. Babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are more likely to have underdeveloped lungs, or develop asthma as children than babies of moms who didn’t smoke.
Higher risk of birth defects
Smoking increases the risk of brain problems in newborns, but it also makes physical birth defects more likely. Cleft lips and cleft palates are considerably more likely to occur in the children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy.
Increased rate of SIDS
Last but certainly not least, smoking during pregnancy raises the rate of SIDS in babies. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health asserts that maternal smoking causes 21% of all SIDS cases, while 61% of SIDS cases in children whose moms smoked while pregnant are attributable to that fact.
The bottom line
Smoking is bad, and during pregnancy, it’s even worse. Quitting smoking is obviously not fun, but it’s considerably better than pregnancy complications and developmental disorders. Your health insurer might have resources available to help you quit, and you can enter your insurance into your Ovia Settings to see if they might be able to help.