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Common myths about smoking and pregnancy

Research shows around a quarter of women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are smokers.

Smoking when pregnant decreases the amount of oxygen available to the growing baby, and the nicotine in cigarettes increases the mother's and the baby's heart rate. Smoking also reduces the flow of blood through the umbilical chord. If a woman smokes when she is pregnant and after her baby is born, her baby has an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and complications during birth. Passive smoking is a real and significant threat to a baby's health, and the poisons in cigarettes inhaled by a mother are passed on to the baby through breast milk and through passive smoking.

Here are some common fears and fallacies about smoking during pregnancy:

'Cutting down during pregnancy is good enough'.

Every bit helps, but even a few cigarettes a day means many poisons will be in your growing baby's food supply, and damaging your own health at a vital time. There is no safe level of smoking. It is never too late to quit because most fetal growth occurs late in pregnancy. This means that quitting at any time during pregnancy is likely to reduce the adverse effects of smoking on your baby. However, planning to quit as early as you can means a better start to life for your baby.

'I'm already 3 months pregnant. What's the point of stopping now? The damage is done.'

There are benefits. For example, if you quit now, your risk of having a low-weight baby will be similar to that of a non-smoker.

'There's nothing wrong with having a low-weight baby - it just means a quicker and easier birth.'

Having a low-weight baby does not make things easier for you or your baby at birth. A smaller baby is more likely to become stressed during birth, leading to a more complicated delivery. Labour with a small under-weight baby is no easier or shorter than labour with an average baby.

'Smoking relaxes me, and being relaxed is better for my baby.'

Smoking may calm you down; but it does speed up your heart rate, increase your blood pressure and depress your nervous system. Every puff you take on a cigarette increases the carbon monoxide in your bloodstream. This replaces oxygen in your blood reducing the amount of oxygen available to your baby. This is not better for your baby.

'If I stop smoking I'll put on too much weight.'

Some women find that smoking reduces appetite, but at what cost? You will need more calories during pregnancy to cope with the increased needs of your growing baby and to maintain your own health. A weight gain of 10 to 13 kilograms has been found to be desirable for the development of a healthy baby. A balanced, healthy diet consists of eating moderately from a wide variety of foods. It is the quality of your diet that is important, not the quantity of food eaten.

Give your baby a great start to life, call the Quitline on 13 7848 (13 QUIT) for free resources and help to quit smoking.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Statistics on Drug Use in Australia 2002. AIHW ca no PHE 43. Canberra:AIHW (Drug Statistics Series no 12)

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