Smoking and pregnancy



Key points about smoking and pregnancy

  • When you smoke, so does your baby. There is no safe level of smoking, either for you or your baby.
  • Smoking during pregnancy exposes your unborn baby to over 4,000 chemicals contained in cigarette smoke. 
  • If you smoke, protecting your baby from tobacco smoke is one of the best things you can do to give your child a healthy start in life.
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Smoking while you're pregnant can cause problems for both mum and baby. It increases your risk of:

  • miscarriage
  • ectopic pregnancy (where the fetus develops outside the womb)
  • bleeding during the last months of pregnancy – which can be life-threatening for you and your baby
  • premature labour (before 37 weeks) which can cause breathing, feeding and health problems
  • your baby dying in the womb (also called stillbirth) or shortly after birth
  • your baby being born with abnormalities, eg, a cleft lip or cleft palate.

Smoking affects the growth of babies in the womb. It reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients that pass through the placenta, from you to your baby. Babies born to mothers who smoke typically weigh less than infants born to women who don't. Smaller babies don't mean a shorter or easier labour. They can often have problems during and after labour. For example, they're more likely to have problems keeping warm and are more likely to get infections

The long-term effects

The effects of smoking on your unborn baby can have long-term effects on their growth and development. Babies and children whose mothers smoke during pregnancy have a greater chance of:

It's never too late to quit smoking. Stopping anytime during your pregnancy has great benefits for you and your baby. The earlier you stop smoking, the greater the benefit. Giving up smoking is difficult , but there are many ways to get help and support.

Read about the benefits and useful tips to help you quit smoking.

Cute girl hugs pregnant mum's tummy

Image credit: Canva

Dedicated stop smoking services for pregnant women

If you want to stop smoking, your lead maternity provider will refer you to a dedicated smoking cessation service for support, for example:

There are lots of other great professional support groups out there. See the section below for more support services.

Quitting smoking is easier with support from your friends and whānau. It's helpful having someone to call to keep you motivated when you have those strong urges and cravings. If you have whānau and friends who don't want to quit or aren't ready to quit, make some rules like not offering you cigarettes and not leaving them lying around to tempt you. You can ask them to smoke outside, or not smoke around you at all.

You can use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) during pregnancy if it will help you stop smoking and you're unable to stop without it. Prescription medicines, eg,  Champix (varenicline) or Zyban (buproprion) during pregnancy are not usually recommended.

When using NRT, you and your baby are still exposed to nicotine, but the nicotine is delivered at lower levels than smoking, without all the other harmful chemicals contained in cigarette smoke. NRT can help you by giving you the nicotine you would have had from a cigarette.

Talk to your healthcare provider or stop smoking adviser for advice.

  • NRT medications are available in different forms such as chewing gum, lozenges or skin patches.
  • Liquorice flavoured products should be avoided.
  • If you have pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, patches may be a better solution. Patches should be used for a maximum of 16 hours per day.

Video: Using nicotine replacement therapy during pregnancy

(Health New Zealand |Te Whatu Ora, Health Promotion, NZ, 2024)
te reo Māori version(external link)
This video is also available with transcripts in Samoan and Tongan.

Electronic cigarettes (also called E-cigarettes) are battery-operated cigarettes that turn chemicals, including nicotine, into vapour, which is then inhaled. They are becoming a popular alternative to smoking and are often used to assist with quitting smoking. However, vaping is not recommended during pregnancy as most e-cigarettes include nicotine as well as chemicals, flavours and other additives that may not be safe for your baby. Read more about vaping.

To find a stop smoking service within your area, use the location filter under the map (mobile view) or at the bottom of the search results (computer view).

Source: Healthpoint services directory used with permission.

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Credits: Healthify Editorial Team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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