The effects of smoking during pregnancy and how to quit

What are the government’s goals to combat side effects of smoking during pregnancy?

The government’s current goal, to decrease the number of women smoking during their pregnancy to less than 6% by 2022, has been highlighted as ‘sufficiently ambitious’ in the recent Review of the Challenge Report by the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group. This optimistic aspiration has been set in place as an antidote to the side effects of smoking during pregnancy. So what are the effects of smoking during pregnancy and how can you quit?


Effects of smoking during pregnancy

Every time a mother smokes, she restricts the flow of oxygen to her baby and causes his/her heart to work much faster. At the same time, the baby becomes exposed to over 4,000 dangerous chemicals, including nicotine and carbon monoxide. Risks as a direct result of smoking throughout the pregnancy include: stillbirths, miscarriages, low birth-weight, birth defects and sudden unexpected infant deaths.


Why are the Government’s outlined goals so important? 

Based on the 2022 target date, the Review of the Challenge Report estimated that there would be 30,000 less women smoking during pregnancy.


The following predictions, calculated from this analysis, show health implications for families throughout the UK:

  • 45 – 73 fewer babies stillborn
  • 11 – 25 fewer neonatal deaths
  • 7 – 11 fewer sudden infant deaths
  • 482 – 796 fewer preterm babies and 
  • 1,455 – 2,407 fewer babies born at a low birth weight. 

If the government’s goals are met, maternal smoking would be reduced, and consequently, impact the number of families facing the effects of smoking during pregnancy.


The government’s previous wins

Previous attempts from the government to reduce the number of maternal smokers has been successful. For example, their target was met between 2010 and 2015 as national statistics for smokers during pregnancy fell under 11%. With that in mind, why should the Government pay close attention now?


Support is on the decline

Parents highly profit from support during the process of quitting to help them achieve their desired smoke-free pregnancy. The benefits of support are immense, at NHS Stop Smoking Service it was revealed that 44% of their women who set a quit date between April 2017 and December 2017, were indeed successful.


Statistics show that between 2011 and 2012, the stop smoking services supported (SSS) over 11,500 to quit. Perhaps, this achievement helped coin the Government’s previous success. Yet, last year there was a dramatic drop in numbers, less than 7,000 quit through the support of the SSS. These numbers alone demonstrate the importance of support for parents turning to a smoke-free lifestyle. However, the solution doesn’t stop at support.


Photo credit: wk1003mike/Shutterstock 


Inconsistent implementation of NICE guidelines

The Review of the Challenge Report revealed the immense impact secured through a ‘well implemented scheme,’ arguing that the NHS, both locally and nationally, should be implementing the NICE guidelines in harmony with one another. According to their evidence, a ‘well implemented scheme can double a women’s chances of success.’


Does the bitter truth echo a story of inequality for maternal smokers? The Review of the Challenge Report say more needs to be done to reduce smoking rates within low income groups and for women within the child bearing age group. This argument is based on data and analysis from Public Health England, specifically showing that smoking rates of white ladies working within routine and manual positions are more than double of all women on average.


The crucial take-away, more needs to be done for women before conception rather than waiting until conception to take action. This strategy is especially important within deprived environments. However, it isn’t only women who need to be supported.


Exposure to secondhand smoke 

Secondhand smoke is also responsible for restricted oxygen to a baby within the womb, causing the baby to work harder and become vulnerable to harmful toxins. Perhaps, the households of these expecting mothers carry more responsibility than they realise?


Alarmingly, it is estimated that 20% of women are exposed to secondhand smoke within their own homes through the duration of their pregnancy. Unfortunately, despite not smoking themselves, these women become vulnerable to the adverse effects of smoking during pregnancy.


Women living with a smoker are at a disposition, becoming 6 times more likely to smoke throughout their pregnancy. Those who do successfully quit smoking, yet live with a smoker, are more likely to relapse after giving birth.


Seeing a friend or family member face the effects of smoking during pregnancy, such as sudden infant death or a miscarriage, makes the statistics hit home. However, one does not need to wait to experience these detrimental effects first hand before making a change.

Options for choosing a smoke-free home


Photo credit: eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock 


There are plenty of options for a household quitting smoking, for example, electronic cigarettes. We recommend you speak with your local Stop Smoking Service for advice catered to you individually, particularly if you are an expecting mother.


Services for expecting mothers, partners and households


Register with your local Stop Smoking Service clinic to receive:

  • Tailored one-to-one support
  • Support groups
  • Advice and referrals for affordable NTR 

How can the household help?

Make realistic goals:

  • Perhaps, only smoke outdoors or away from the house altogether
  • Consider vaping as an option, perhaps try a vape starter kit.
  • Cut habits which used to include cigarettes and replace them with new, healthier habits
  • Keep each other accountable (without patronising or scolding anyone)
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