Are you aware of the real risks of smoking while pregnant? Studies suggest that smoking and stillbirth risk is often correlated. In other words, a woman who smokes during pregnancy may have a higher risk of stillbirth.
Aside from stillbirth, pregnant women who smoke may also experience other complications such as ectopic pregnancy, placental abruption, preterm birth, low birth weight and other birth defects.
Smoking During Pregnancy
It’s true – smoking and stillbirth risk go hand in hand. Smoking during pregnancy can have long-term effects on the baby’s health. It can lead to low birth weight, premature birth, and stillbirth. Smoking while pregnant also increases the risk of miscarriage, placental abruption (where the placenta separates from the uterine wall), and intrauterine growth restriction (when the fetus does not grow properly).
Smoking during pregnancy can also cause problems immediately after childbirth. Babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are at greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), pneumonia, and other complications.
If you smoke during pregnancy, you must stop smoking as soon as possible—and stay away from secondhand smoke too!
Smoking and Stillbirth Risk
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We all know that smoking, in general, poses severe health risks to people. About 6 Singaporeans die prematurely from smoking-related diseases each day. When pregnant women smoke, these chemicals pass from an expectant mum’s bloodstream into the baby’s blood.
According to the US Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), smoking contributes to slow fetal development and problems with the placenta leading to stillbirth or early miscarriage.
Cigarette smoke contains poisonous chemicals such as carbon monoxide and ammonia, which are absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in negative health implications.
Contradicting some pregnancy myths, there is no “safe” level of smoking when pregnant. It doesn’t matter how seldom you smoke while pregnant, it will still affect your baby.
What Is Stillbirth
Stillbirth is the death of a fetus after 20 weeks gestation or at any time after birth.
Stillbirth is defined as death in utero that occurs during labour and delivery. It can happen during pregnancy and just before or right after birth.
What Causes Stillbirth
The causes of stillbirth are different for each baby and can include the following:
genetic problems in the baby or mother
- placental abnormalities
- umbilical cord accidents (such as prolapsed cord)
- maternal medical problems (e.g., diabetes)
- problems with the placenta or umbilical cord such as velamentous insertion (when the umbilical cord does not connect properly to the placenta)
- problems with labour and delivery like fetal malposition (where the baby’s position during delivery is difficult)
How to Prevent Stillbirth
Stillbirth is a devastating loss. There are many ways to prevent stillbirth, though. Here are some of the most effective ways:
- Reduce your risk of preterm delivery by getting prenatal care and taking folic acid supplements if pregnant.
- Avoid recreational drugs, especially cocaine and heroin, during pregnancy.
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources like fish and chicken, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products like milk or yogurt (though most experts recommend avoiding dairy altogether during pregnancy).
- Don’t smoke cigarettes while pregnant—it’s one of the most common causes of stillbirths in the U.S., so quitting now can help prevent future issues!
How Common Is Stillbirth From Smoking
There is a connection between smoking and stillbirth risk. Smoking is one of the most common causes of stillbirth, especially in the first trimester. Smoking during pregnancy can increase your risk of stillbirth by as much as 60 per cent.
A stillbirth occurs when the baby dies in utero, and it’s often a result of an umbilical cord accident. Smoking increases your risk of placental abruption (when your placenta separates from your uterus), placental insufficiency (when the placenta is not providing enough nutrients or oxygen to your baby), and other complications that can lead to stillbirth.
Why Does Smoking Cause Stillbirths
Smoking causes stillbirths because it leads to placental insufficiency, a condition without enough blood or oxygen reaching the baby. This can be caused by smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking certain drugs during pregnancy.
Pregnant women who smoke have a higher risk of having complications during delivery than women who don’t smoke. Their babies are also more likely to be born prematurely and at low birth weight.
When pregnant women smoke, carbon monoxide enters their bloodstream and attaches to red blood cells that would otherwise carry oxygen throughout their body. This reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood flowing through their body and into their baby’s umbilical cord.
Secondhand Smoke and Its Effects
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The effect of secondhand smoke is just as harmful as smoking a cigarette directly.
To explain it scientifically, the smoke that burns off the end of a cigarette contains more harmful chemicals such as tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide than the smoke that is actually inhaled by the smoker.
So if you breathe in this toxic cocktail, you are already a passive smoker and exposing your baby to potential harm, including the risk of stillbirth.
Other Pregnancy Complications Caused By Smoking
Aside from stillbirth and miscarriage, the effects of smoking on the baby’s health extend up to the day they are born.
One complication that is also common in women who smoke or women who are exposed to secondhand smoke is an ectopic pregnancy. The nicotine causes contraction in the fallopian tubes which prevents the embryo from passing through. In this situation, the embryo should be removed to prevent danger to the mother.
There are also studies saying that smoking can lead to preterm birth. And this is dangerous as well because a baby being born early may develop a range of health conditions, including mental disability, visual and hearing impairments and more.
How to Quit Smoking While Pregnant
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There are a few things you could do to avoid exposure to cigarette smoke during pregnancy
First things first, if you are a smoker, commit and decide to quit right away. It’s going to be challenging, especially if you have been smoking for a long time. But putting your baby’s life on the line should be enough to drive you to make that decision.
Some studies also suggest that caffeine stimulates your urge to smoke. So if you can avoid beverages with caffeine, then it might help. Side note: caffeine is also bad for the baby as it contributes to babies having low birth weight.
If your urges are even stronger, a support group might help you. It doesn’t have to be a professional one, it could be your friends or family members. Engage in social and physical activities. These will also help you take your mind off of your urges and even help in keeping your health in check.
How To Avoid Exposure to Secondhand Smoke During Pregnancy
Now, if you live with people who smoke, especially if it is your husband — ask them not to smoke around you. Educate them about the risks; if you can motivate them to stop, it will be better.
But if this is too hard to do, maybe you can just designate non-smoking areas in your house.
Finally, you may also want to avoid places like bars and restaurants where people often smoke or if it’s not possible, just stay in non-smoking areas.
You might think that being pregnant takes a lot of work — and you’re right. But remember, your little one will thank you for these sacrifices and you will benefit from it too if he/she comes out healthy!
Updates from Pheona Ilagan
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