Smoking While Pregnant: What Are the Risks?

“Can I smoke while I’m pregnant?” Short answer, no. Long answer, nuh-uh, no way, big nope, NO. Smoking during pregnancy can have serious consequences for your baby, as well as put your own health at risk. If you smoke, it’s important to quit for both of your sakes. We’re going to take a look at the effects of smoking on pregnant women and their babies.

Smoking while pregnant starves your baby of nutrition and oxygen

pregnant woman no smoking

When you smoke, it increases the levels of nicotine and carbon monoxide in your blood. Nicotine causes the blood vessels to constrict, while carbon monoxide binds to the hemoglobin in your blood and takes up the space oxygen should occupy. The elevated levels of nicotine and carbon dioxide in the blood interferes with the transfer of oxygen and nutrition that your baby needs to develop.

Smoking while pregnant risks miscarriage and birth defects

Smoking can play havoc on your reproductive health. Women who smoke have more trouble conceiving than non-smokers, and are also more likely than other women to have a miscarriage. Smoking during pregnancy can cause problems with the placenta – the source of the baby’s food and oxygen during pregnancy. If you smoke during pregnancy, there is a 90% increase in the chances of a placental abruption – a potentially fatal condition when the placenta detaches from the womb wall.

Smoking starves your baby of the nutrition and oxygen they need. Smoking also raises the risks of low birth weight, with smoking thought to be responsible for 20 to 30 percent of low-birth weight babies. Babies born to moms who smoke during pregnancy are also have 30% higher risk of being premature.

Post-partum effects of smoking during pregnancy

baby crying

Smoking while pregnant isn’t just dangerous during the pregnancy itself: there are consequences for your child after the birth, too.

Risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also called crib death, is the sudden unexplained death of a child in the first year of life. Although the reasons aren’t yet exactly clear, research indicates that children born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are at a higher risk of SIDS.

Effects on the child’s stature and academic performance

Follow-up studies on the children of moms who smoked during pregnancy indicated they tended to have both shorter stature and lower academic performance compared to children of moms who didn’t. Research also shows that the children of pregnant smokers appear to develop ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) at higher rates than their peers.

Effects of Smoking on Women

woman tired

It’s no secret that smoking puts you at risk of potentially fatal diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. However, it also has specific harmful effects for women of childbearing age.


Smoking is bad for your overall fertility. When you are born, your ovaries come equipped with all the egg cells you’re ever going to have in your life. Studies indicate that smoking may decrease the number of these egg cells, resulting in early menopause and infertility. If you’re still trying to become pregnant, or you’re hoping to get pregnant again in the future, that makes it a good reason to quit!

Skin changes

Smoking reduces estrogen levels, and can also leave your blood vessels chronically under-supplied with oxygen. This can lead to all kinds of trouble for your skin – particularly with regard to signs of premature aging like wrinkles and age spots.

Cervical cancer

ribbon cervical cancer

Studies have shown that women who smoke are considerably more likely to develop cervical cancer than non-smoking women. The exact mechanism is not yet clear, but smokers appear to be weaker at resisting and fighting off the human papillomavirus (HPV) – the viral infection that causes cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is potentially deadly, and the treatments can also affect your future fertility.

Avoiding smoke and exposure to second-hand smoke

cigarette smoke

Smoking during pregnancy is dangerous, but second-hand smoke is also harmful to pregnant women and babies. It’s important to limit your exposure to second-hand smoke by avoiding smokers in your environment – for example, make your house a smoke-free zone. If your partner smokes, consider asking them to quit while your baby is developing. You can help give your baby the best chance at a healthy start in life by steering clear of smoke!