Advice Column, Health, Pregnancy, Pregnancy & Baby


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Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, explores the dangers of smoking during pregnancy.

“While the prevalence of smoking during pregnancy in South Africa has decreased in recent decades, it is still a significant public health concern that requires continued attention and support to help pregnant women quit smoking and protect the health of their unborn babies,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“Quitting smoking is the best way to protect the health of both the mother and the baby. Many resources are available to help pregnant women quit smoking, including counselling, support groups, and nicotine replacement therapy. Seeking help is crucial for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.”

When a woman smokes cigarettes during pregnancy, the harmful chemicals in the tobacco smoke enter her bloodstream and pass through the placenta to the developing foetus. This can lead to a range of adverse health effects.

Despite this, many women smoke during pregnancy because they are unaware of the risks or find quitting difficult.

Dangerous Chemicals in Cigarettes

Cigarette smoke contains various harmful chemicals that can affect foetal development and increase the likelihood of a range of health problems in the short and long term.

A few of the many chemicals found in cigarettes include:

  •  Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, and it increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
  •  Tar, a sticky brown substance, is deposited in the lungs when inhaled cigarette smoke can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  •  Carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas, reduces the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream and can cause shortness of breath, dizziness, and headaches.
  •  Benzene, a carcinogen, can damage the bone marrow and lead to leukaemia.
  •  Formaldehyde, used to preserve dead bodies, is also found in cigarettes and is a known carcinogen.
  •  Acrolein, a toxic liquid, irritates the eyes, nose, and throat and can cause lung damage.

Smoking During Pregnancy: The Top Risks to Your Unborn Baby’s Health

Affinity Health lists five of the most significant risks associated with smoking.

1. Low Birth Weight

Smoking during pregnancy is one of the leading causes of low birth weight. Babies born with low birth weight are at higher risk of health problems, including respiratory distress, feeding difficulties, and infections.

They may also experience developmental delays and have a higher likelihood of long-term health problems, including chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, smoking during pregnancy can result in an average 180 grams decrease in birth weight. This risk increases with the number of cigarettes a mother smokes per day.

2. Premature Birth

Smoking during pregnancy is also a significant risk factor for premature birth (defined as giving birth before 37 weeks of gestation).

Premature babies are at higher risk of developing health problems, including respiratory distress syndrome, cerebral palsy, and vision and hearing problems.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking during pregnancy raises the chance of premature birth by 25%.

3. Stillbirth

Smoking during pregnancy can also lead to stillbirth (when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy). Stillbirth is a devastating loss for families and can be caused by various factors, including smoking during pregnancy.

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, smoking during pregnancy raises the chance of stillbirth by up to 40%.

4. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the unexpected death of an infant under the age of one year, typically while sleeping.

Smoking during pregnancy is a risk factor for SIDS, and babies born to smokers are up to three times more likely to die from SIDS than babies born to non-smokers.

Smoking during pregnancy raises the risk of SIDS by altering the baby’s respiratory and immunological systems, leaving them more vulnerable to illnesses.

5. Developmental Delays and Long-Term Health Problems

Smoking during pregnancy can also lead to developmental delays and long-term health problems for the baby.

Children born to moms who smoked during their pregnancy had an increased risk of developmental impairments, including language and cognitive development delays.

Smoking during pregnancy can also affect the baby’s DNA, leading to long-lasting changes that may increase cancer risk and other chronic diseases later in life.

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