Smoking and tobacco and pregnancy

If you’re pregnant, the safest option is to not smoke at all. The chemicals in tobacco smoke affect an unborn baby's development and may have lifelong effects. Find out what the risks are and who you can contact for help and support.

What do I need to know?

Smoking during pregnancy harms both you and your baby. It can cause complications during your pregnancy and affect your baby’s development.

Quitting smoking before or during your pregnancy, or even after the baby is born, is the best way to protect your baby and yourself. Both you and your baby will benefit straight away.

The risks of smoking while pregnant

There are risks for both you and your baby if you smoke while pregnant.

Risks to you include:

  • miscarriage – losing your baby in early pregnancy
  • stillbirth – losing your baby in late pregnancy
  • ectopic pregnancy – where the embryo implants outside the uterus
  • problems with the placenta – such as covering the cervix (placenta previa) or separating too early from the uterus (placental abruption)
  • pre-eclampsia – you develop high blood pressure and swelling – which can be fatal.

Risks to your baby include:

  • dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • being born too early – not fully developed
  • being born underweight – at higher risk of delayed development and/or disease
  • having birth defects such as a cleft lip or cleft palate
  • being harder to settle and having feeding problems
  • having middle ear infections or permanent hearing impairment
  • long term damage to the lungs, brain and blood – for example, your baby may develop asthma or suffer from pneumonia.

A baby exposed to tobacco smoke in the womb and through second-hand smoke as an infant is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and be obese as an adult. This risk is increased even if they are non-smokers throughout their lives.

What if my partner smokes?

If you don’t smoke, but your partner does, there is still a risk to your unborn baby. Breathing in second-hand smoke, also known as passive smoking, has the same level of risk as if you were smoking.

Encourage them to quit smoking so your baby is protected from harm.

How much is safe to smoke?

There is no safe amount of smoking. Every cigarette is doing you damage by releasing chemicals that will harm the development of your baby.

Try to cut down, or quit completely, if you're trying to fall pregnant or are already pregnant.

Smoking can affect trying to fall pregnant

Smoking can affect the reproductive system so that:

  • it is harder to fall pregnant
  • infertility treatments are less effective
  • in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is less successful.

If you quit smoking you are more likely to conceive naturally and without delay.

How long after having a baby is it safe to resume smoking?

It's best to not resume smoking after your baby is born – staying smoke-free protects your baby's health. If you do start smoking again you can protect your baby by:

  • not smoking around them
  • going to places where smoking is not allowed
  • making your house and car smoke-free.

Read more about the effects of passive smoking on children.

What are the risks of smoking while breastfeeding?

If you smoke while breastfeeding you risk:

  • lowering your supply of breast milk
  • your baby being exposed to nicotine through your breast milk
  • burning your baby with hot ash
  • affecting your baby's development.

If you do smoke while breastfeeding, then it is better to wait until after you have fed your baby rather than before or during a feed. This will minimise your baby's exposure to nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco smoke.

Getting help and support

Just as you need help and support during and after your pregnancy, you need help and support to quit smoking.

Here are some suggestions:

  • tell your friends and family you're trying to quit
  • ask them to be patient with you when you're dealing with withdrawal symptoms
  • if they smoke, tell them not to smoke around you or your baby.

Some quitting methods may not be suitable while you're pregnant – ask your health professional for advice on what is best for you and your baby or call the Quitline.

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