Smoking During Pregnancy

The risks to pregnant women smokers are recognised by health communities worldwide. In the UK, approximately 30% of pregnant women smoke. According to researchers, smoking during pregnancy can lead to health problems for the unborn child.

Due to smoking habits among pregnant women, about 4000 foetal deaths occur every year. It also includes miscarriages. Smoking among pregnant women also leads to premature births, low birth weight, cot death and asthma. In addition smoking is also associated with learning difficulties among children whose mothers smoke during pregnancy, which is yet another good reason why women who are pregnant should consider giving up. However, this can sometimes be quite difficult with many treatments including prescription product Champix are not suitable whilst pregnant meaning that any attempt to give up will require a significant amount of willpower.

Researchers at the University of the Nottingham have also proved that if women stop smoking before or during pregnancy, risks associated with smoking can be significantly reduced.

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Benefits of stopping smoking during pregnancy

Listed below are some of the benefits that can be experienced when you commit to stopping smoking during the course of your pregnancy:

Benefits of Stopping Smoking During Pregnancy
Reduces risk of stillbirth The pregnancy and your baby will be healthier
Less likely to give birth to an underweight baby Lower chance of complications
Premature birth is less likely to occur Risk of cot death will be reduced

Effects of smoking during pregnancy

There are a number of risks and conditions associated with smoking whilst pregnant. These can include the following:

  • Early miscarriage / stillbirth – cigarettes causing issues with the placenta or slow foetal development.
  • Ectopic pregnancy – fertilized eggs implanting themselves outside of the uterus, which can cause potentially life-threatening complications for the pregnant mother.
  • Placental abruption – placenta separating itself from the uterus prior to childbirth, which can lead to severe bleeding and can potentially be life-threatening for both the mother and baby.
  • Placenta Previa – placenta remaining in the lower region of the uterus, (partially or fully) covering the cervix, which can tear the placenta, causing excessive bleeding whilst also preventing vital nutrients and oxygen from reaching the foetus.
  • Preterm birth – early birth, which can cause various health risks, including mental disability, visual / hearing impairments, and learning and behavioural issues.
  • Low birth weight – delivering a small baby, which can potentially result in cerebral palsy, hearing / vision ailments, development delay or possibly even the death of the newborn baby.
  • Birth defects – risk of birth defects increases when smoking during pregnancy, including the risk of a cleft palate / lip or issues with the structure of the heart.

Research into the effects of smoking during pregnancy

New research has uncovered a worrying link between smoking during pregnancy and low levels of "good" cholesterol that protects against heart disease in children.

The study was lead by David Celermajer, who is a professor of cardiology at the University of Sydney. It involved 405 healthy eight year olds who were born between 1997 and 1999. The research began before the children were born and included information on whether the mother smoked during or after pregnancy, whether the children were then exposed to second hand smoke.

The results of the study showed that by the time the children whose mothers had smoked reached the age of eight they had lower levels of the cholesterol high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. The levels for these children were approximately 1.3 mmol/L, in comparison to the levels in children who had a non-smoking mother during pregnancy, which were 1.5 mmol/L.

HDL cholesterol is important because it plays a vital role in defending the body from atherosclerosis, which is a condition where the walls of the arteries become thickened and eventually blocked by the build up of fatty materials. This leads to serious heart problems. People with lower levels of HDL cholesterol will be at a higher risk of heart disease.

According to Celermajer, these findings are significant because cholesterol levels do not usually change from childhood through to adulthood, which means that these children will be more vulnerable to heart disease as adults. Celemajer pointed out in a statement that "studies have shown that for every 0.025mmol/L increase in HDL levels, there is an approximately 2.0 to 3.0% reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease."

This means there is a "10 to 15% higher risk" for children of smoking mothers of experiencing heart disease.

Smoking has been associated with many diseases. One more health risk has been associated with smoking among pregnant women by researchers.

According to a study carried at the University of Nottingham by the Genetics of Pre-Eclampsia Consortium, pregnant women who smoke put the lives of their unborn babies at risk. This study was funded by the British Heart Foundation and strongly supports the opinion of many leading experts who advise that expectant mothers should quit smoking whilst pregnant.

The University of Nottingham study

The study was performed on 1001 white Western European women and their babies. These women had moderate to severe pre-eclampsia. The study was led by Professor Broughton Pipkin of the School of Human Development.

The results of the study showed that women smokers gave birth to premature babies and the risks of developing eclampsia were high.

  • Out of the total 1001 women, 38.8% smokers delivered premature babies as compared to 21.3% of non-smokers
  • 46.1% of smokers delivered low birth weight babies when compared to 27.9% non-smokers
  • 65.6% of smokers delivered babies with adverse conditions when compared to 60% of former smokers and 50.4% of non-smokers

A cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, Ellen Mason said, "Research like this study from The University of Nottingham is vital to help us understand the full effects of lifestyle choices on our heart and circulatory health and that of our children. Smoking is clearly potentially very harmful to mother and baby, and we need to support women in quitting at every stage of pregnancy."

Professor Fiona Broughton Pipkin said, "Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are the second most frequent cause of death in pregnancy in this country and cause an estimated 70,000 deaths worldwide among pregnant women each year. In 2005, 742 babies died as a direct result of pregnancy hypertension in England and Wales. Ten times this number are delivered prematurely for the same reason. They risk short-term breathing problems, potential brain damage and long-term cardiovascular disease. The deaths are the tip of an iceberg for hospital admissions and worry for mothers, babies and families."

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