Your Pregnancy & Smoking


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During a pregnancy your health and that of your child are vulnerable to potential toxins and harmful materials. Cigarette smoke is actually one of the most harmful things you can be exposed to during a pregnancy, and the reasons why are discussed in this article.

What is in cigarette smoke?

That cigarette smoke is harmful is a fact that has been made clear by most information sources, including extensive information campaigns run by the NHS to keep the public aware of the dangers inherent to smoking. But what is in cigarette smoke that makes it so harmful?

There are in fact about 4000 different chemicals in cigarette smoke, all formed by the burning of tobacco. These include around 400 compounds which are known to be toxic (and some like nicotine which can cause addiction), and between 40 and 50 known carcinogens. Carcinogens are a class of chemicals which are known to cause cancers upon exposure to human cells. That’s not to say that smoking a single cigarette can cause cancer, but it is a fact that repeatedly smoking over the years results in an ever increasing chance of developing one of the many different cancers associated with long term smoking (lung and throat cancer being two prominent examples).

Some compounds present in cigarette smoke which you may have heard of are the known toxins carbon monoxide (which limits your blood’s ability to carry much needed oxygen to bodily cells and tissues), ammonia, arsenic, cyanide, tar, and nicotine.

Why is cigarette smoking so dangerous during a pregnancy?

When pregnant everything you are exposed to is, at least in some way, also exposed to your unborn child. The physical link between mother and foetus means that vital nutrients that you eat and drink are shared with the unborn, and the caveat to that is that of course any toxins you are exposed to are also carried to your foetus. It’s not just first hand smoke which is exposed to the foetus, but second hand smoke as well. What this means in short is that any harmful substances you are exposed to will affect your baby as well.

Carbon monoxide is one of the dangerous compounds found in cigarette smoke with a particular dangerous potential effect on unborn children. Carbon monoxide, abbreviated to CO, replaces oxygen carried by your blood stream, restricting the provision of much needed oxygen to the unborn child. Oxygen is an absolutely critical ingredient for human life, and low levels of oxygen have a number of detrimental effects on the health of your pregnancy. For one thing the unborn baby’s heart is stressed as it needs to beat harder to compensate for the lower quantities of oxygen. Similarly oxygen deprivation can disrupt the healthy development of a foetus as it lacks an essential material to grow as it should.

Smoking increases the chances of a miscarriage (particularly during the first trimester when a pregnancy is particularly vulnerable) or premature birth. It is a habit that can, as mentioned above, disrupt the development of an unborn baby, with consequences like an increased likelihood of certain infections during childhood, and a higher chance of developing breathing disorders like asthma or particular chest infections.

There is a lot of evidence to show that smoking is extremely hazardous to your health and to that of your unborn child during a pregnancy. Fortunately there are many schemes in place to help with the process of quitting, which can be difficult if you are a long-term smoker. The NHS invests heavily in campaigns designed to help you quit smoking, and so you can be confident in that there is support for you should you need it.


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