Smoking can be a hard habit to kick. In fact, it may be one of the hardest things you ever have to do in life. Harder than giving birth? Well, maybe. It depends on who you ask. If you have to do both — quit smoking for the sake of your unborn child and then wait for baby to arrive — you probably have a few long months ahead of you with a nicotine withdrawal and morning sickness double-combo.
We all know that smoking while pregnant is a big no-no. It’s as bad as drinking alcohol while pregnant, if not worse (though some studies will say that imbibing in a cocktail will do more harm to your developing fetus than smoking cigarettes or even marijuana). Smoking during pregnancy is a risk factor for various problems in baby, including premature birth, sudden infant death syndrome, or birth defects.
And now may be as good a time as ever to kick the butts. A new study has found a link between smoking during pregnancy and cerebral palsy.
Let’s take a look at what this means, what cerebral palsy is, and how you can get help today quitting smoking.
Smoking and the Cerebral Palsy Link
Although at least one previous study has indicated there may be a link between smoking and cerebral palsy, researchers at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia found that exposure to cigarette smoke in the womb worsens baby’s response to one of the main causes of cerebral palsy: hypoxia-ischemic injury (HII).
The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience. HII occurs when baby’s brain is starved of oxygen-rich blood in the womb. Cigarette smoke can actually kill cells in the brain that are associated with motor skills and memory, and cerebral palsy is a condition associated with such types of brain damage.
Although the study did not include human subjects, mice that were born to mothers exposed to cigarette smoke both before and during pregnancy were observed. In testing the baby mice and their motor skills, researchers found movement problems among the group exposed to cigarette smoke, not unlike the same motor skill delays seen in cerebral palsy. The mice were found to have weaker limbs, poorer memory, and be more clumsy or anxious, thereby potentially affecting their learning ability.
The reason for the movement problems? An increase in oxidative stress. Cigarette smoke can decrease the amount of antioxidants in our bodies, which makes for a nice playground of the harmful free radicals that can lead to brain damage.
According to the researchers in Australia, quitting smoking is of the utmost importance — even if you aren’t pregnant but are thinking about becoming a mother one day.
“What we have observed so far is that in order to avoid harm to their baby, mothers need to give up smoking several months or even years before their pregnancy, as smoking will affect the quality of their eggs before they are even fertilized.”
Isn’t cerebral palsy a birth injury?
In short, yes. Cerebral palsy can have a variety of causes, from oxygen deprivation during birth to genetic mutations, fetal stroke, and infections. Various complications during pregnancy also can cause the trauma that leads to the brain damage that causes cerebral palsy.
During birth, placental detachment (which you have an increased risk of as a smoker) can cause asphyxia, which cuts off the supply of oxygen to baby and can damage her brain. A difficult labor, such as a breech birth, may also cause baby to suffer from asphyxia.
Occasionally, cerebral palsy is caused by the error of your medical team that was in charge of your pregnancy or delivery. In those cases, we may be able to help.
What else does smoking do during pregnancy?
If the latest research doesn’t convince you to give up smoking, consider the following information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- If you quit smoking, your baby will have more oxygen as she develops in your womb. Her access to oxygen begins to improve the day after you quit.
- Baby’s placenta also will be healthier if you stop smoking. The placenta is the source of both her food and oxygen, and with cigarette smoking, there’s a greater chance the placenta will separate too early and cause problems for both mom and baby.
- Your risk for baby coming too early, being underweight, or you having a miscarriage decreases significantly. Your risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome also decreases.
- Smoking will make it harder for you to become pregnant, so stop now if you’re thinking about starting a family.
How to Stop Smoking Before or During Pregnancy
Luckily, if you’re trying to quit smoking before or during pregnancy, the odds are in your favor. According to the 2011 Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System, 55% of women who smoked in the three months leading up to becoming pregnant quit while they were pregnant. Although it seems like a shocking number, just 10% of women reported smoking during the last three months of their pregnancy.
Unfortunately, many women do pick back up smoking after they give birth, which can lead to health problems for the mother and potentially secondhand smoke issues for a newborn. Within six months of delivery, a whopping 40% of former smokers will return to the habit.
If you are having trouble quitting smoking, speak with your primary doctor or OB/GYN about resources available to you locally, such as self-help groups as well as what sort of methods may be safe to use to help you quit smoking (don’t just plop on a nicotine patch thinking all will be well!). Please note that “dropping down” to e-cigarettes or vaping is not a healthy alternative. While there are fewer harmful substances in e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes, they still contain nicotine, which remains unsafe during pregnancy. Some flavorings used in e-cigarettes also may be harmful to a developing baby.
Have you quit smoking while pregnant or trying to become pregnant? Share your tips with fellow Safe Birth Project readers in the comments!