pregnant smoker

Smoking in Pregnancy

Giving up smoking is the single best thing you or your partner can do for your health, the health of your baby and your whole family unit. Your midwife or doctor can put you in touch with the stop smoking services are available to you locally. Some of these are specifically for pregnant women. However, each will support you and help you to stop.

Why stop?

Most people are aware that smoking during pregnancy is harmful to both mother and baby but may not be aware of the risks and implications. Research has shown that growth is affected in babies whose mothers smoke during their pregnancy. They may be born too early and weigh less than average. A baby with low birth weight may pick up infections more easily and have difficulty breathing after birth. They may also have health and wellbeing problems that last through childhood and beyond.

You should also limit your family’s exposure to second-hand smoke. Second-hand smoke can affect your baby while you are still pregnant. If you inhale smoke, the chemicals in the smoke make their way to your unborn baby. These chemicals include cyanide and lead, and a variety of other compounds known to cause cancer.

How does smoking affect babies?

The nicotine and carbon monoxide found in cigarette smoke both act to restrict your baby’s oxygen supply. While the nicotine narrows the blood vessels supplying your baby with oxygen, the carbon monoxide in smoke gets delivered in its place. This effect is detrimental because the uterus is already a low oxygen environment. Making your home and car smoke-free is the only way to protect yourself and others, especially babies and children, from second- hand smoke.

If you stop smoking, you will reduce the risks during pregnancy, such as complications in labour, miscarriage or stillbirth (24). You will also reduce risks to your baby, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) (25), and respiratory/breathing problems, including chronic conditions such as asthma (26). You will notice benefits such as having more time and money, improved skin and teeth health, and an improved sense of smell and taste.

Your breath will smell fresher as will your hair and clothes, and you will have reduced your risk of other life-threatening diseases, such as heart attack and stroke (27).

Smoking in vehicles

The known impact of tobacco smoking on the unborn baby has prompted worldwide action to make motor vehicles carrying children smoke-free by law. The exposure to passive smoke increases in the confined space of a car. It is particularly hazardous to health, especially that of children.

Opening the car window or using the air-conditioning or fan is not enough to stop the harmful effects of smoke on the car’s occupants. There is no ‘safe’ level of second-hand smoke exposure.

As of May 2012, all Australian states and territories (except the Northern Territory) have made it illegal to smoke in the car when children are present. Smoking regularly near a baby is one of the known leading causes of cot death (sudden infant death syndrome).

Other carers or visitors should never smoke near your baby. If there are smokers in the house who are unable to give up, ask them to smoke outside. A ‘smoking jacket’ or shirt should be kept outside, then removed before coming back in. That way any chemicals lingering will be left on the jacket rather than on the clothes.


Dr Janelle McAlpine (PhD), Clinical Midwife
Photo by fizkes used under license from