Each single cigarette contains more than 4,000 chemicals. Cigarettes also restrict oxygen to your heart, so each time you light up, your heart beats faster. If you’re pregnant, this means you will also be restricting oxygen to your baby. Yet, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the health risks that continuing your addiction causes.
Dr Mohamed El Disouky, Specialist Registrar, Family Medicine — Smoking Cessation at Dubai Health Authority (DHA), says the dangers are truly serious. “There are two types — dangers for the baby and dangers for the mother. Regarding the baby, starting from the beginning of conception, there is a risk of congenital malformation, problems with respiration, low birth weight, death and a higher risk of abortion.”
Dr El Disouky explains congenital abnormalities can lead to serious problems for the baby, ranging from digestion to breathing. “Congenital abnormalities can mean the malformation of a baby’s digestive system or of the lung, which can lead to respiratory problems and even asphyxiation at birth.”
Smoking also increases the risk of health complications for the pregnant mother. If she continues to smoke, she has a higher chance of contracting conditions such as bronchitis. In the case of bronchitis, it can be far more serious if you’re pregnant and could potentially lead to pneumonia.
Hypertension is also more common in smokers and can cause pre-eclampsia, which is a condition that occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Aside from potentially damaging your organs and causing other side effects such as shortness of breath and swelling, if left untreated, it can lead to eclampsia. If this happens, the mother will suffer seizures and the side effects are far more serious, with patients experiencing confusion or even falling into comas.
No time like the present
With such overwhelming evidence to support the argument against smoking, the first priority of any pregnant woman should be to quit as soon as possible. “The first thing to do is to stop smoking,” says Dr El Disouky. “If you discover you’re pregnant and you stop within two or three days, the dangerous effects of smoking will decline.”
DHA offers a series of cessation clinics for people who are addicted to nicotine to help them kick the habit. It has a multifaceted approach, which combines counselling, with practical advice and support. “The mother can get nicotine patches, chewing gum and she can receive extensive counselling. We can give her four condensed sessions. All of these factors can help with cravings and withdrawals. With a little difficulty, it is possible to stop smoking.”
Weighing up the risks
While the unequivocal consensus is to simply stop smoking, if you still persist, then the risks grow as your pregnancy progresses. This also applies to the amount you smoke, with heavy smokers running a higher chance of complications.
“Smoking affects pregnant women and their unborn babies in different ways and especially if the mother is not a heavy smoker (smoking less than one pack per day) and she can stop in the first month, there’s a likelihood that smoking will not affect the baby.” he says. “Essentially, it’s a matter of balance. If she stopped smoking before conception, the likelihood of side effects are next to nothing, but if she stops smoking in the first month of pregnancy, there’s still a chance of a problem or an abnormality.”
The dangers of passive smoking
If the mother manages to stop smoking but her partner continues to smoke there are still dangers to consider. In fact, this also applies if your
close friends, colleagues or family members smoke.
“Passive smoking carries a risk but it’s not comparable to regular smoking,” says Dr El Disouky. “Passive smoking is not as bad but if the pregnant woman is a passive smoker most of the day, for most of the week and most of the month, it means that she is approaching the same level of seriousness as a smoker. If the husband is a smoker, it’s better for him to stop or at least smoke outside the house.”
Third-hand smoke is also a consideration, though the risks aren’t comparable to actually smoking yourself. “Third-hand smoking is when someone is carrying nicotine in their clothing, hands and hair, so when someone touches them, some of the nicotine products transfer to the mother and then the baby but the risks are so low compared to regular smoking,” he adds.
Dr El Disouky believes the best chance you have of winning the battle against nicotine cravings is to attend a DHA cessation clinic.
Nevertheless, if you’re adamant that this isn’t for you, there are still ways to stop smoking and going cold turkey is perhaps the simplest way.
“Smokers will have to withstand withdrawal symptoms for two or three days,” he says. “Many people can quit smoking without visiting a DHA
cessation clinic. They can fight the withdrawal symptoms by using nicotine patches for a few days, but this is risky as they are trying on their own and they will not be exposed to the full cessation package.” It is also extremely important to inform your friends, family and colleagues, adds Dr El Disouky. “Letting your friends and family know that you are stopping smoking is one of the most important issues because they will help you and understand your nervousness. They can entertain you for two or three days. The first three days are the dangerous zone, so you need extensive support. Co-workers should also know as they may offer you cigarettes without realising. Most of the time people will find support.”
Risks in later life
In the unlikely event that you still aren’t convinced smoking, especially during pregnancy, is harmful, it’s worth considering the baby’s later life.
Statistically if an individual’s parent smokes, then they are far more likely to smoke themselves. What’s most important to remember is that quitting smoking can be a painful experience but if the burning desire is there, you can stop.