If you’re pregnant, it can be an exciting time!
Pregnancy also can be an overwhelming time, especially for those who smoke. Pregnancy may feel like the perfect time to quit, however, the thought of managing big life stressors while going through nicotine withdrawal can be paralyzing. The fact is that most women who smoke do NOT completely quit during pregnancy. And of those who do, most eventually relapse after giving birth. There can be guilt and even shame attached to that cycle.
Most moms-to-be know there are plenty of reasons to quit smoking before getting pregnant. Smoking increases the risks of several negative outcomes for the parents and the baby, such as premature delivery, low birth weight, stillbirth, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and other complications. If you’re still smoking but wondering if it’s too late to quit, there’s good news!
It’s never too late to experience a smoke-free pregnancy
Quitting before getting pregnant is healthiest, but it’s NEVER too late to experience the benefits of a smoke-free pregnancy - and eventually a smoke-free life! Immediately after quitting, blood vessels in the placenta and umbilical cord expand to their normal size, allowing a healthy flow of oxygen and nutrients. Thousands of toxins are eliminated from both the mother and baby’s bodies.
Myths and facts about quitting in pregnancy
And while there are immense benefits to quitting smoking while pregnant, there are also many myths about smoking and quitting during pregnancy. Let’s clear them up here.
Quitting smoking will be too stressful on my baby.
When most people think about quitting smoking, they anticipate withdrawal, which can include feelings of anxiousness, agitation, and irritability. But there is no evidence that babies experience these symptoms. In fact, quitting DECREASES blood pressure, heart rate, and other physical indicators of stress. People who quit smoking for a few weeks often find their stress levels have gone down.
There’s nothing wrong with having a small baby.
Babies with bodies too small for their age are at risk for many complications before and after birth. Most importantly, a small body means small organs. A baby with an underdeveloped brain or lungs might experience difficulty breathing, feeding, and controlling body temperature.
I smoked during my last pregnancy and had a healthy baby.
Some babies – and mothers – experience no noticeable negative outcomes as a result of smoking during pregnancy. However, it does increase the RISK of these negative outcomes. Additionally, some concerns don’t appear until much later. For example, people whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are more likely to experience obesity, diabetes, asthma, learning and behavior challenges, and even their own addictions.
What can help me quit?
Some strategies for quitting apply to everyone. It’s helpful to have a plan for changing routines connected to smoking and responding differently to cues that make someone want to smoke. But when developing a quitting plan, a few components seem to be especially important in pregnancy.
We all can benefit from the encouraging and practical support of loved ones, but multiple studies have shown that, when pregnant women successfully quit, they often have a network of supportive people in their lives who understand the challenges of quitting.
They also tend to have high levels of confidence in their ability to quit. This confidence can come from previous experience making big changes or getting through challenges. But it also can come from learning and following the examples of others who have made similar changes. This is why a connection is so important, whether it’s friends, family, or a support group live or online (like the Pivot Community).
These strategies are great for learning to change the behaviors connected with smoking. But for most people, nicotine dependence has a strong physical hold too. The feelings of withdrawal can be uncomfortable at best and plain miserable at worst.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and other medicines can help ease the symptoms of withdrawal. But in pregnancy, most healthcare providers prefer to be conservative with medications during pregnancy, as nicotine is related to some negative birth outcomes of its own. The most common approach is to plan to stop smoking through behavior changes and reduction, and then use low doses of short-acting NRT like gum or lozenges to take the edge off strong cravings.
Know that you are not alone
No matter your stage of pregnancy, it’s NEVER too late to improve your health and the health of your baby by quitting smoking. If you already have the Pivot app, now could be the perfect time to chat with a coach for personalized support. Don’t forget to reach out to the Community too! Others may have been in the same situation and have great ideas for you to try. You can download the app at pivot.co.
Linda Bundick, MS, CHES, CHWC, NCTTP
Talia Rappatone, BS, NBC-HWC, TTS