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There are many great reasons to quit smoking, but none are quite as urgent and pressing as a pregnancy. Because around half of all pregnancies are unplanned, lots of women are still smoking when they find out that they are expecting a baby.

How exactly does smoking harm your baby? And how can you quit this potentially lethal habit right now

Why pregnant women should stop smoking immediately

You know that smoking is bad for your health, and you know that smoking can and often does kill. Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 dangerous chemicals (!!!), and research shows that at least 69 of those can cause cancer. This may not need to be said at all, as all smokers obviously know that their nicotine addiction poses a risk. How much of a risk? Smoking kills more people than car accidents and murders combined on an annual basis! Smoking during pregnancy is more dangerous to a fetus than some of the more common pregnancy complications, like high blood pressure or gestational diabetes some doctors are quick to point out.

Of course you'll find other doctors, mostly in developing countries, advising expectant mothers to smoke so their babies will be smaller and they'll have an easier birth. Crazy, isn't it? Babies born to smokers are often smaller, because their growth in utero is restricted due to a lack of oxygen. Babies born to smoking mothers also have a higher risk of being born prematurely because of the same reason. Newborns born to smokers are have underdeveloped lungs more often, as well as breathing difficulties and asthma in later life. You can add a higher risk of heart defects and a lower IQ later in life to the list too and finally, some babies of smokers don't make it at all. Stillbirth is perhaps the most tragic side effect of smoking in pregnancy, though your child will not be around to blame you for what happened. Scared yet? With reason. Here's how to quit now.

How can you quit smoking?

Perhaps you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, or perhaps you planned to quit when you were contemplating how to get pregnant but have still not managed to kick the habit. No matter what the circumstances, the consequences can be dreadful. Every cigarette you smoke while pregnant deprives your baby of oxygen and exposes her to harmful and cancer-causing chemicals. The good news is that every time you don't light up, you are doing something very real for your baby.

It is never too late to stop smoking the chances of a good birth outcome go up even if you quit in your third trimester. If you are still in your first trimester, now is the best time to say no to nicotine. How? Cold turkey is the only real way to stop smoking when you are pregnant. Nicotine replacement therapy is not suitable for pregnant women (though certainly better than actually smoking that cigarette). Does that mean you just have to suffer until your withdrawal period has been and gone? Not in my experience. I have been nicotine-free for a year now. The first three days were terribly hard, but it all got better quite soon. These are some safe steps you can take to quit smoking during your pregnancy, and hopefully forever:

  • Drink a fairly large glass of water every time you feel the urge to light up.
  • Exercise when you want to light up. Jogging in place or going up and down some stairs are safe options for pregnant women. Prenatal yoga is another great possibility.
  • Change your daily routine as much as you can, giving you the opportunity to avoid those rituals you most associate with smoking. Having a cigarette with your morning coffee is probably the most common of these rituals.
  • Tell everybody that you stopped smoking, and stop thinking of yourself as a smoker.
  • Of course, think about your baby when you keep in mind that you are keeping your baby safe and healthy, quitting shouldn't be that hard!

One very important last step is to get your partner on board. Second-hand smoke is just as harmful as first-hand smoke, and both parents are responsible for the health and well-being of their children. Besides, saying goodbye to nicotine really is much easier when you have each other's support.

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