Research suggests that cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including harmful substances such as lead and cyanide, as well as 60-plus cancer-causing elements. When a pregnant woman smokes, that toxic mixture is absorbed into your bloodstream, which is your baby’s only source of nutrients and oxygen.
In general, a fetus should not be exposed to any of the 4,000-plus chemicals, but even worse is the harmful effect of nicotine and carbon monoxide – two toxins that account for nearly every smoking-related pregnancy complication, with the most serious ones being premature delivery, stillbirth, and low birth weight.
Research suggests that nicotine narrows blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the umbilical cord, choking off oxygen supply to the fetus. As if this is not bad enough, the red blood cells that supply oxygen start to pick up carbon monoxide elements instead, further reducing oxygen supply to the mother’s tissues and the fetus.
So, how does this impact the fetus?
Lack of sufficient oxygen has tragic effects on your baby’s growth and development. In fact, research shows that smoking during pregnancy more than doubles the chances that your baby will be born too early, weigh less than 4.5 pounds, or be at risk of stillbirth. Other effects of smoking on the fetus include:
• Lifelong effects on the baby’s brain function, increasing the risk for learning disorders, low IQ, and behavioral problems
• Increased risk for a heart defect at birth, as well as infections and other health problems – especially if the mother smoked during her first semester
• Babies smaller in weight and size usually have underdeveloped bodies, and their lungs may not be fully functional at birth, requiring them to rely on a respirator for a few days or weeks.
Every cigarette a pregnant mother smokes increases the risks to the baby. The fewer cigarettes you smoke per day the lower the risk, though the difference may not be significant, since a smoker’s body is most sensitive to the first couple of nicotine doses each day.
It is hard to quit smoking, so ask for help from your spouse, family, friends, and a physician such as myself.