Effects of Smoking during Pregnancy

No matter the sex of a smoker, it’s always a difficult task to quit. Many smokers may have been smoking for many years, even decades. When someone is addicted to smoking, their bodies are simply used to it and their system craves it.

Not just the nicotine, but the comfort of the oral fixation and even the camaraderie with other smokers. For some smokers, it becomes an important part of their lives.

So it’s no surprise that it is extremely hard to give up for many people. For pregnant women though, it is absolutely essential to stop smoking.

We’ve all heard that you shouldn’t smoke while pregnant, but most people aren’t aware of exactly why this is the case. Read on to find out how a fetus is affected by smoking.

Doctors know that smoking is the leading cause of birth complications. Women who smoke during pregnancy have higher rates of premature babies, low birth weight and stillborn babies. When a woman has a condition like high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy, proper medications can offer good control over these conditions.

However, when a woman smokes during pregnancy, there is no method, medication or treatment available that can protect the fetus from the effects of smoking.


Cigarette smoke contains thousands of different chemicals. Many estimates go as high as 4000 chemicals in some cigarettes. These aren’t just any chemicals either, they are some of the most dangerous and toxic chemicals known to man.

Chemicals that are commonly found in cigarette smoke include lead, cyanide, benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia and other toxic compounds and gases. When you smoke, these chemicals go into your bloodstream. The blood from the Mother is the fetus’s prime source of nourishment including nutrition and oxygen.

Basically, when a pregnant woman smokes, her baby is smoking as well. Needless to say, a fetus simply doesn’t have the ability or strength needed to be able to protect itself from these harmful chemicals.

In addition to these chemicals, cigarette smoke contains nicotine, which is poisonous in itself, and carbon monoxide. In fact, these two chemicals can work together to decrease the fetus’s oxygen supply. The nicotine narrows blood vessels in the body, including all the blood vessels leading to the fetus [1].

Additionally, red blood cells can pick up carbon monoxide instead of oxygen if exposed to it. This leads to the fetus not receiving the oxygen it needs. The lack of oxygen can have many adverse effects on the fetus’s development [2].

In particular, a pregnant woman who smokes will have twice the risk of having a stillborn baby.

She will also have twice the risk of having a baby born with low birth weight or less than 5 ½ pounds. Her risk also doubles for having a baby born prematurely [3].

Each cigarette smoked by a pregnant woman increases these risks. Though smoking two packs of cigarettes a day can have terrible consequences, so can smoking just a couple of cigarettes a day.

No matter how many cigarettes are smoked, the chances of experiencing a complication are exponentially higher than for a non-smoking woman.

A baby whose Mother smoked can not only have low birth weight or be born prematurely, but it can also have issues with organs, congenital diseases, and deformities.

Common issues found with premature babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy include breathing issues. This is typically caused by the exposure to nicotine, as it can slow lung development in the fetus.

It is also common for a baby’s heart to be affected [3]. In particular, if the woman smoked early in the pregnancy, the chances are higher that the baby will be born with a heart defect.

The CDC estimates that smoking during pregnancy results in as high as a 70% higher rate of congenital heart defects at birth. 

Smoking can also affect brain health in a fetus [3]. Studies show that babies of mothers who smoke can have higher rates of learning disorders, lower IQ’s and behavior issues.

By quitting before getting pregnant or by stopping smoking immediately once you find out you’re pregnant; you can drastically minimize the risk to your baby. Seek help if it seems like too difficult a task, there are many resources available to help you quit.
Image: Pixabay


  1. The maternal and fetal physiologic effects of nicotine. -NCBI [Link]
  2. Effects of chronic carbon monoxide exposure on fetal growth and development in mice – NCBI [Link]
  3. Smoking and Pregnancy — A Review on the First Major Environmental Risk Factor of the Unborn – NCBI [Link]
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  1. Ricky May 5, 2019
    • Daniella Hall May 5, 2019