Smoking rates are going down among Americans. However, the smoking rates among women are going down more slowly than among men. In fact, among high school seniors, teenage girls now smoke as much or more as teenage boys.

When young women who smoke start to think about having children, they also need to think about quitting smoking. The best time to quit is when a woman plans to get pregnant in the near future. Or she needs to think about quitting after she finds out that she is pregnant, which will be better for her own health and for that of her baby.

Pregnancy is a great time to quit smoking and stay quit after the baby is born.

Here Are Some Questions That Are Often Asked About Smoking and Pregnancy:

  1. Don't some mothers smoke during pregnancy and have healthy babies?

    A: They are the lucky ones! If a woman smokes during pregnancy she takes a big chance with her baby's health. There is a greater chance that she will lose the baby during pregnancy. The baby could also be born too early, before the lungs are ready, so he or she will have trouble breathing. Why take a chance when there is so much to lose?

  2. Babies often weigh less when the mother smokes. Isn't it easier to deliver a small baby?

    A: It is not always easier to deliver a low-birth weight baby. And a baby that weighs too little is often sick with lots of health problems. Smaller babies are more likely to need special care and stay longer in the hospital. Some may die either at birth or within the first year.

  3. Does cigarette smoke get through to the unborn baby?

    A: Yes, when the mother smokes, so does the baby. Smokers take in poisons such as nicotine and carbon monoxide (the same gas that comes out of a car's exhaust pipe). These poisons get into the placenta, which is the tissue that connects the mother and the baby before it is born.These poisons keep the unborn baby from getting the food and oxygen needed to grow.

  4. Will a woman gain extra weight if she quits smoking during pregnancy?

    A: A woman needs to gain weight during pregnancy. An unborn baby depends on the mother to eat the right foods. So, if she stays away from junk foods and sweets, the mother's weight gain will be fine. And she needs to exercise. Her doctor can help her plan how to keep active; brisk walking is good for most women.

    Even if a pregnant woman gains a few extra pounds, she can lose it after the baby's born. And speaking of how she looks, the woman can think about how smoking stains her teeth and fingers. It makes her clothes and her breath smell bad. And smoking may even add more skin wrinkles.

  5. How about cutting down on cigarettes rather than quitting for good?

    A: The only way to really protect your unborn baby is to quit. Cutting down is better than doing nothing but it may not make things much better for the baby.

    If a pregnant woman cuts down or switches to low-tar cigarettes, she must be careful not to inhale more deeply or take more puffs to get the same amount of nicotine as before.

  6. Does it matter when the pregnant woman quits smoking?

    A: The best time to quit is when the woman thinks she will get pregnant in the near future. If she does quit, her baby will probably weigh the same as the baby of a woman who has never smoked. Or if she quits within the first three or four months of her pregnancy she can lower her baby's chance of being born too small and with lots of health problems.

    Many women are able to quit during pregnancy. It is easier than other times when they tried to quit. They can quit now for their babies as well as for themselves.

    If the woman feels sick in the first couple of months, cigarettes may taste bad, and so it is easier to quit.

    Even if a woman quits at the end of her pregnancy, she can help her baby get more oxygen and have a better chance of making it. It's never too late to quit, but the earlier the better for both the mother and her baby!

  7. What about other people smoking around the pregnant woman?

    A: New studies show that if a woman's partner smokes near her during her pregnancy, there are added risks. She has a greater chance of having a baby that weighs too little and may have health problems.

    So, a pregnant woman should ask her partner, and other people as well, not to smoke near her.

  8. Does quitting smoking provide benefits for the woman as well as for her baby?

    A: Pregnancy is a great time for a woman to quit. No matter how long she has been smoking, her body benefits from quitting. She will feel better and have more energy to go through the pregnancy and to care for her new baby.

    Of course, she will also avoid many of the future health risks of smoking such as heart disease, cancer and other lung problems. AND she will save money that she can spend on herself and her new baby.

  9. If a woman quits smoking during pregnancy, will she have a hard time handling the stress?

    A: She can learn to relax in other ways that are much better for her and the unborn baby. When she feels tense, she can take some deep breaths or chew sugarless gum. She can also do something with her hands like sew something for the baby or call a friend.

    These are safer ways to handle stress. She can also remind herself that smoking will not make things any better.

  10. If a mother who smokes breast feeds her baby, does the nicotine get into her milk?

    A: Breast feeding is a good way to feed a new baby but smoking may cause problems. Nicotine is a poison in cigarettes. So if the mother smokes, the baby drinks the poison in her breast milk.

  11. Are there any long-term harmful effects on the baby if the mother smokes during pregnancy?

    A: Yes, there can be. Smoking during pregnancy may mean that after the child is born it will have more colds and other lung problems.

    These children may also be slower learners in school. And they may be shorter and smaller than children of nonsmokers. And, of course, they are more likely to smoke when they get older because they see their parents smoking.

  12. We know that a woman should not smoke during pregnancy, but is it alright to go back to smoking after the baby is born?

    A: It makes no sense at all for her to go back to smoking! Even after the baby is born, her smoking can hurt the baby.

    Babies have very small lungs and airways which get even smaller when they breathe smoke-filled air. Smoking can make it hard for the baby to breathe. It can cause lung problems like bronchitis and pneumonia that could put the baby back in the hospital.

    Babies of smokers also get more colds and coughs and middle-ear infections. Mothers should also ask people like family, friends, baby sitters, and day care workers not to smoke in any areas near the baby.

How Can The Pregnant Smoker Get Help In Quitting?

Here are some ways to get started:

  • She can ask for help from her doctor or nurse and from family and friends.

  • She can make a list of her reasons for wanting to quit, for herself as well as for her baby.

  • Set a Quit-Date; the sooner the better. If a woman is not ready to set a date, she can begin to cut down on smoking. Then, she can make a plan to stop all smoking in the near future.

  • Ask for stop-smoking materials and read them. A smoker needs to learn about her own smoking habit and plan ways to cope with urges to smoke after she quits. She can try the four D's: Delay, Deep Breathe, Drink Water, and Do Something Else.

  • If a woman slips and goes back to smoking, she should first find out what caused the slip and then she can keep trying to quit again until she makes it for good. The only failure is if she stops trying.

  • When she stops smoking, she shows that she wants to raise her baby in a smoke-free world.

Contact your local American Lung Association (ALA) at 1-800-LUNG-USA(1-800-586-4872). ALA knows how to help pregnant smokers stop smoking for good.