If you’re a smoker when you become pregnant, quitting is the best thing you can do for your baby. But knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to do. While it may be easy for some women to go cold turkey, others may find the withdrawal stage difficult, especially when dealing with early pregnancy symptoms such as tiredness, nausea and headaches.
NHS Digital recently revealed that just one in six clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England are meeting the “national ambition” that fewer than 6% of women should be smoking at the time they deliver their baby. It also found wide variation across the country, with smoking rates at delivery more than 17 times higher in some CCGs than at others.
But if you are among that group of women still smoking while pregnant, don’t despair: no matter how far into your pregnancy you are, it’s never too late to give up, as your baby will still reap the benefits.
“As soon as you stop smoking, both you and your baby will be better off,” said Elizabeth Duff, senior policy advisor at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). “Carbon monoxide and chemicals will clear from the body and oxygen levels will return to normal. If you really feel you can’t give up completely, cutting down the amount you smoke during pregnancy will help to reduce the risk to your baby.”
Duff continued: “We understand how hard it can be for women to adapt to pregnancy both physically and emotionally. Cigarettes restrict the oxygen supply to your baby and contain over 4,000 chemicals, so protecting your baby from tobacco smoke is one of the best things you can do to give your child a healthy start in life.”To mark National Non-Smoking Day (14 March), we’ve got tips on how women can stop smoking while pregnant, from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and the NHS. NHS Choices states the benefits of stopping smoking while pregnant. These include reducing the risk of complications in pregnancy and birth; being more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and baby; reducing the risk of stillbirth; the baby is less likely to be born prematurely; and reducing the risk of cot death. So if you are pregnant and looking to give up, ensure you take on board these seven tips.
Although you may feel more motivated to give up smoking when you find out you’re pregnant, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be plain-sailing. The NCT advises getting support from family and friends so you can be encouraged to keep going with your goal. They can motivate you to carry on and give you supportive words if you’re having a hard day. “If your partner smokes as well, it can really help to stop together,” the charity advised.
As Duff mentioned, cutting down smoke will reduce the risk to your baby. “The effects of the chemicals and lack of oxygen transported to your baby when you smoke a cigarette are ‘dose-related’,” the charity stated. “This means that the more you smoke the greater the damage. The damage, however, is quickly reversed when you stop smoking.”If you’re struggling to cut down, the NCT suggests purchasing an e-cigarette which allows you to inhale nicotine through a vapour rather than smoke. Current evidence on e-cigarettes indicates they are much less risky than smoking - the NHS states: “If using an e-cigarette helps you to stop smoking, it is much safer for you and your baby than continuing to smoke.”
It can be hard to admit to midwives or your doctor that you smoke, because there is so much pressure not to smoke when you are pregnant. But the NCT said mums-to-be should remember staff are there to help them - not to make judgments - and they will be keen to give support if you want to quit. “Whatever stage of pregnancy you’re at, it is never too late to ask for support to give up or cut down - you and your baby will benefit immediately,” they said.
The NCT’s stats show you’re up to four times more likely to quit successfully with NHS support. Your midwife, health visitor, practice nurse or pharmacist will have advice and for details of your local NHS Stop Smoking Service. The NHS Smokefree helpline (0300 123 1044) is open 9am-8pm Monday to Friday, and 11am-4pm at weekends. Another resource for pregnant women is Start4Life, which offers health advice to pregnant women and new mothers, including tips to support and encourage healthy lifestyle choices.
One way to give yourself an incentive, advised the NCT, is to count how much money you could potentially save by stopping smoking and then make a decision to invest this money into something for your newborn baby after the birth. Is there a new cot or pushchair you want to save up for? A gorgeous blanket? Your baby’s first bear? Put the money in a pot and see it stacking up.
Giving up smoking isn’t easy, especially as you’ll also be changing the habits you normally associate with smoking. Take it one day at a time and don’t be too hard on yourself. If you are managing to cut down or have given up altogether, the NCT advises rewarding yourself for success. Give yourself some pampering by going out for a spa trip or getting your hair and nails done; treat yourself to a meal out with a friend at a favourite restaurant or go shopping and find yourself to something new to wear.
The NHS shares success stories of women who have stopped smoking while pregnant. Mum Laura got support through the NHS Smokefree service to stop smoking, while another mum, Victoria, said prescription medicines really helped her to kick the habit. Watch their stories here.
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