Couple holding a printed scan of their unborn baby

Smoking in pregnancy

Smoking and your unborn baby

Protecting your baby from tobacco smoke is one of the best things you can do to give your child a healthy start in life. It can be difficult to stop smoking, but it’s never too late to quit.

Every cigarette you smoke contains over 5,000 chemicals, so smoking when you are pregnant harms your unborn baby. Cigarettes can restrict the essential oxygen supply to your baby. As a result, their heart must beat harder every time you smoke.

Even if you stop in the last few weeks of your pregnancy this will benefit you and your baby.

There is lots of help available, so you don’t have to do this alone. Talk to your GP or midwife – they can talk you through the best treatments available.

Benefits of stopping smoking in pregnancy

Stopping smoking will help both you and your baby immediately. Harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide, and other damaging chemicals will clear from your body. When you stop smoking:

  • you will reduce the risk of complications in pregnancy and birth
  • you are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby
  • you will reduce the risk of stillbirth
  • your baby is less likely to be born too early and have to face the breathing, feeding and health problems that often go with being premature
  • your baby is less likely to be born with a low birth weight. Lighter babies can cause problems during and after childbirth. For example, they are more likely to have problems keeping warm and are more likely to get infections
  • you will reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death

How does smoking harm my baby?

Most people know that smoking is bad for you, but if you’re a smoker and pregnant it can harm your growing baby too.

When you smoke, your baby does too. The toxic chemicals from tobacco enter your lungs and bloodstream and make your heart beat faster.

The chemicals are then passed to the baby through the placenta (which provides nutrients to the baby). It stops them getting enough oxygen and harms the baby’s growth and development.

In the UK, smoking in pregnancy causes up to 5,000 miscarriages and around 2,200 premature births each year.

Woman with nicotine patch

Using quit aids

You can use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) during pregnancy if it will help you stop smoking and you’re unable to stop without it.

NRT contains only nicotine and none of the damaging chemicals found in cigarettes, so it is a much better option than continuing to smoke. It helps you by giving you the nicotine you would have had from a cigarette.

You can be prescribed NRT during pregnancy by a GP or an NHS stop smoking adviser. You can also buy it over the counter without a prescription from a pharmacy. Visit our Ways to quit page.

E-cigarettes are fairly new and there are still some things we do not know. However, current evidence on e-cigarettes indicates they are much less risky than smoking.

Watch this video below from the UK pregnancy charity Tommy’s.