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Why Pregnancy & Cigarettes Don't Mix
When one of my patients finds out she's pregnant she's usually filled with great expectations about parenthood, and aware of the big responsibilities ahead of her. At this stage, and throughout her pregnancy, her main priority should be her health. Unfortunately, if she's a smoker, as nearly 25% of my patients are, she's putting not only her own future at risk, but her baby's as well.

You see, when mom is addicted to cigarettes her baby spends the next nine months exposed to the nearly 3,500 chemical substances contained in tobacco smoke. The danger of premature birth and delivering a smaller than expected baby are well-known complications associated with smoking during pregnancy. In both scenarios, the baby is at increased risk of being ill when it is born. Babies reared in a smoker's home also have a greater risk of developing respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Studies have shown that 30% of women stop smoking the very day they find out they're pregnant. Over the ensuing months many of them will battle their addiction, starting and stopping smoking. The good news is that if a pregnant woman stops smoking her risk of complications becomes the same as other nonsmokers. Sadly, not every woman kicks the habit.

Physicians have tried a variety of strategies to discourage their patients from smoking. The most obvious technique is to discuss the health risks associated with cigarettes. In addition, I like to point out that the money they save by quitting can go a long way toward nursery furniture, baby clothes and a Fisher-Price® stroller to boot!

Despite my encouragement, many of my patients are unwilling or unable to stop smoking. In these cases, I ask them to consider using one of the over-the-counter smoking cessation products, such as gum or nicotine patches. Although they're not approved during pregnancy (nothing really is), they're certainly less worrisome than smoking. In fact, 124 women in a recent research trial in Denmark used nicotine patches and had larger babies than those in the placebo group of smokers. The same study found that if the women were motivated to stop smoking and used the patch, more than 50% of them successfully quit!

Even if a woman is able to reduce the number of cigarettes she smokes during pregnancy, it's better than nothing. If she's struggling to stop I may try to involve her partner. A supportive spouse can make a big impact in these scenarios. If her partner smokes, though, I encourage him to quit, which makes it more conducive for her to quit.

Although I would never make one of my patients feel guilty, she must ultimately accept the consequences of her smoking. Unfortunately, her baby may be the unwitting recipient of that addiction.

If you're pregnant, and you're still smoking, do what you can to stop. Talk with your physician about ways to kick the habit. Give your child a breath of fresh air now. As a parent, it's one of the best things you can do—for both of you!