If you google the term “smoking”, the first result is an NHS page describing the health risks associated with smoking. This lifestyle choice is renowned for being detrimental to our health, yet 6.9 million adults smoke cigarettes in the UK.
In the 1930s and 40s, tobacco companies used doctors in their adverts to promote their cigarettes as the brand to cause the least throat irritation. Despite the advertising being slightly oxymoronic, it worked until mid 1950s when links between smoking and lung cancer started emerging. Only in 1964 did doctors claim smoking caused lung cancer. It took another 43 years for smoking to be banned from public spaces in the UK (July 2007). Even today, it’s a “landmark law” in the UK that the Welsh Government are banning smoking on hospital and school grounds.
Whether you are a smoker or not, you cannot deny the risks smoking imposes on our health and even our unborn children. When a pregnant woman smokes a cigarette, toxins including carbon monoxide, enter her lungs and travel through her bloodstream to her placenta. The toxins cross the placenta and enter the baby’s circulation. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas. It combines with blood cells preventing full oxygen saturation of the blood. The reduced oxygen levels in the baby’s blood affects its development. Maternal smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth and reduces the baby’s growth.
Research has been published implicating smoking 14 weeks before and 10 weeks after conception has adverse effects on pregnancy. Smoking 10 or more cigarettes a day during this critical period has resulted in delayed development of the baby at 20-week ultrasound scan and low birth weights. The more cigarettes the mother smokes, the greater the delay to her baby’s development.
Babies born with a low birth weight are at more risk of complications. For example, the baby may struggle more to fight infections. Low birth weight is also associated with an increased chance of poorer adult health.
The NHS offers a smoke-free helpline (03001231044) and Stop Smoking Service’s which provide support from trained ‘stop smoking advisers’. Currently, there are no specific services for pregnant smokers.
This research has highlighted the importance of developing public health interventions to help couples to stop smoking before conception. Educating people to understand the impact smoking has on themselves, those around them and their future child is vital to achieving this.