Smoking and pregnancy

The choices you make when you’re pregnant affect your baby’s health as well as yours. Now you're pregnant, there’s never been a better time to stop smoking. The earlier you stop smoking in your pregnancy, the better.

There’s no safe amount when it comes to smoking. Any amount damages your health and your baby’s. Cutting down or switching to low-tar cigarettes isn't enough. The safest thing is to stop smoking completely.

Hidden risks

When you smoke, you breathe in a cocktail of dangerous chemicals, including a gas called carbon monoxide.

You can’t see or smell it, but it’s harmful to you and your baby because it affects how your body uses oxygen.

Carbon monoxide:

  • affects how your baby grows and develops.
  • makes health problems more likely during your pregnancy and when you give birth

Testing for carbon monoxide

You will have a carbon monoxide test at your first antenatal appointment.

You blow into a machine which measures the carbon monoxide in your body and you get the results straightaway.

If the result is 4 or more your midwife will ask you whether you smoke, or whether you live in a house where someone else smokes. It’s best to be honest, so your midwife can get you the right help.

Reasons to quit smoking

Smoking doesn’t make labour or birth any easier or less painful, and it won’t affect the size of your baby’s head. But smoking can slow down growth, which means your baby could have health problems.

By stopping smoking:

  • you reduce the risk of having a miscarriage of your baby being stillborn
  • you reduce the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), previously known as cot death
  • your baby's more likely to be born a healthy weight and full-term (at around 40 weeks) - babies born too early and underweight are more likely to have feeding and breathing problems
  • your baby's less likely to be born with health problems like asthma or a cleft lip and/or palate
  • you’ll look better, smell better and feel better
  • you’ll lower your risk of heart disease and cancer
  • you'll save money - just a month of not smoking could save you around £200 to spend on you and your baby

It's good for you and your baby to stop at any point – the benefits will start straight away.

E-cigarettes and vaping

E-cigarettes aren't risk free but are less harmful than tobacco. If using an e-cigarette helps you stay off tobacco, its far less risky for you.

It's less harmful to completely switch to e-cigarettes. However, as e-cigarettes are relatively new doctors don't yet know about the risks to your baby .

Second-hand smoke

If you live with a smoker or spend lots of time with someone who smokes, you’ll be breathing in their smoke too. This is called second-hand smoke.

Second-hand smoke is harmful for you and your baby. The chemicals linger in the air and can still be in the room 5 hours later. Opening windows or smoking in another room or out of a window won’t help.

When your baby's born and you bring them home, ask anyone who cares for them to smoke outside or stop.

Any car your baby's in must also be smoke free. It’s illegal to smoke in a car when someone under 18 is inside.

Getting support

If you smoke, you’ll probably have thought about stopping at some time. You may even have tried to stop more than once. If you have then you’ll know how hard it is.

It can be hard to tell your midwife you’re a smoker. Some women feel:

  • embarrassed
  • guilty
  • under pressure to stop.

Others think they might be judged or worry about what people think. These are natural worries but talking to your midwife can help you get the right support. Your midwife won’t judge and just wants to help.

Getting help to stop smoking

Supporting your partner

Dads and partners can help mum to stop smoking or stay smoke-free by:

  • distract her when she wants to smoke
  • helping her to plan, manage and change some of the routines when she might want to smoke
  • being patient when she’s finding it tough

If you also smoke:

  • do it outside and away from your partner and your baby and keep your car smoke-free too
  • try to quit together and support each other so you’ll both be less tempted to smoke