If you smoke and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you are strongly advised to stop smoking. This is to benefit your health and the health of your baby. Seek help from your practice nurse or GP if you find it difficult to stop smoking.
This leaflet is part of our series on smoking
Why is smoking harmful in pregnancy?
Tobacco smoke contains poisonous chemicals which pass into your bloodstream when you smoke, and then on into the the growing baby's blood. Smoking when you are pregnant increases the risk of:
- Slowing the growth of the baby, leading to a low birth weight.
- Premature labour, leading to the baby being premature.
Even after the birth, children of smoking parents have an increased risk of developing chest infections, asthma, glue ear, and cot death (sudden infant death syndrome).
Of course, there are many other risks with smoking, such as the increased risk of developing chest and heart disorders. See separate leaflet called Smoking - The Facts for more details.
When should I stop smoking?
You and your baby will get most benefit and the risks will be most reduced if you stop before you become pregnant. Planning to become pregnant is a good incentive to stop smoking for many women. It is also often a good time to persuade partners to give up too. However, your baby will still gain some benefit if you stop at any point during pregnancy.
How can I stop smoking?
For many people it is not easy to stop. Below are some tips which may help:
- Write a list of all the reasons why you want to stop, and keep it with you. Refer to the list when you are tempted to light up.
- Set a date for stopping and stop completely. (Some people prefer the idea of cutting down gradually. However, research has shown that if you smoke fewer cigarettes than usual, you are likely to smoke more of each cigarette and nicotine levels remain nearly the same. Therefore, it is usually best to stop once and for all from a set date.)
- Tell everyone. Friends and family often give support and may help you.
- Get rid of ashtrays, lighters, and all cigarettes.
- Be prepared for some withdrawal symptoms. When you stop smoking, you are likely to get symptoms which may include feeling sick (nausea), headaches, anxiety, irritability, craving, and just feeling awful. These symptoms are caused by the lack of nicotine that your body has been used to. They tend to peak after 12-24 hours and then gradually ease over 2-4 weeks.
- Be aware of situations in which you are most likely to want to smoke (for example, the pub). Try changing your routine for the first few weeks. If drinking tea and coffee are difficult times, try drinking mainly fruit juice and plenty of water.
- Take one day at a time. Mark off each successful day on a calendar. Look at it when you feel tempted to smoke, and tell yourself you don't want to start all over again.
- Be positive. You can tell people that you don't smoke. You will smell better. After a few weeks you should feel better, taste your food more, and cough less. You will have more money.
- Food. Some people worry about gaining weight when they give up smoking, as the appetite may improve. Anticipate an increase in appetite and try not to increase fatty or sugary foods as snacks. Try fruit and sugar-free gum instead.
- Don't despair if you fail and have a cigarette. You don't have to start smoking again. Pick yourself up and try again. Examine the reasons why you felt it was more difficult at that particular time. It will make you stronger next time.
What about medicines that can help you stop smoking?
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
This can help if withdrawal symptoms are troublesome. Nicotine gum, sprays, patches, tablets, lozenges, and inhalers are available to buy, and on prescription. Using one of these increases your chance of stopping smoking if you really want to stop. A pharmacist, GP or practice nurse can advise about NRT:
- If you are not yet pregnant but are planning a pregnancy, an option is to try a course of NRT before becoming pregnant.
- If you are pregnant, you should still consider using NRT. NRT is a medicine and may have effects on the baby. But, many people argue that NRT is safer than smoking as, unlike smoking, NRT just gives you nicotine. Smoking gives you nicotine plus a lot of toxic chemicals. So, if NRT does enable you to stop smoking, it may be worthwhile to take it even if you are pregnant.
Other medicines - can be used before you become pregnant
Medicines called bupropion (Zyban®) and varenicline (Champix®) can help. These are available on prescription. One of these may be useful before you become pregnant. These medicines roughly double your chance of stopping smoking if you really want to stop. They help to reduce the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. But note:
- You should not take these medicines when you are pregnant, as the risk to the unborn child is not known.
- If you take one of these medicines, the course should be completed before you become pregnant.
Dr Tim Kenny
Dr Colin Tidy
Dr John Cox