What are the Risks of Smoking During Pregnancy?

Smoking cigarettes and pregnancy do not mix. While most expectant mothers know this, it can still be hard to quit. The good news is that many women find being pregnant is the final motivator they need to kick the habit. In fact, almost half of pregnant smokers quit either just before or during their pregnancy.

Smoking while pregnant is risky for many reasons. First and foremost, smoking can make conceiving harder, and it also makes pregnancy complications like miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy more common. It also leads to premature menopause in women, which is not at all desirable if you are delaying childbearing.

When it comes to the effects of smoking on a developing baby, the list is quite long. Smoking increases the risks for intrauterine growth restriction, low birth weight, and premature breaking of the bag of water. It also increases the chances of having a placenta previa (where the placenta lies over the cervix, making a C-section necessary) and placental abruption (where the placenta prematurely tears off the wall of the uterus, which can lead to hemorrhage and the need for an emergency delivery).

Smoking has been directly blamed for 5–8 percent of all preterm deliveries, approximately 15 percent of all term low-birth-weight babies, and 5–7 percent of all preterm-related infant deaths. These are frightening statistics.

Babies born to moms who smoke have ongoing issues as well. An estimated 23–34 percent of all Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) deaths can be attributed to maternal smoking! Additionally, these children have higher rates of asthma, colic, and childhood obesity.

Why does smoking have such a significant impact on a developing baby? The main issue is that nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict or tighten, which means less blood flow to the fetus. This makes the delivery of oxygen and important nutrients very difficult, and thus makes normal growth and development difficult. There are also hundreds of harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke, such as carbon monoxide and tar. These play a role in the detrimental effects of smoking.

Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, November 2018


  • American Congress of Obstetricians/Gynecologists
  • Committee Opinion # 471: Smoking cessation during pregnancy. American Congress of Obstetricians/Gynecologists
  • FAQ #170: Tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and pregnancy. Smokefree.gov. Talk to an expert. Become an EX Smoker. Pregnant smokers.

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