5. How Your Actions Affect Your Baby’s Development
It’s never too early to start thinking
about how your activities and actions can affect your growing baby. Many
substances you normally use may have negative effects on your baby.
These substances include drugs, tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. Below are
discussions of cigarette smoking and alcohol use. Either of these
activities can harm a developing baby.
Smoking cigarettes raises your blood
pressure because it narrows blood vessels, reducing the amount of oxygen
and nutrients your baby receives. Smoking also causes blood to clot.
These two effects are the reason smoking cigarettes is especially
harmful during pregnancy.
Over 10% of all pregnant women smoke; some
experts put the number at 20%. Smoking is higher among pregnant women
under 20 years old and those over 35. A pregnant woman who smokes 20
cigarettes a day (one pack) inhales tobacco smoke more than 11,000 times
during an average pregnancy! Cigarette smoke crosses the placenta to
the baby; when you smoke, so does your baby!
Nicoderm Patch, Nicorette Gum and Zyban
You may be wondering if you can use the
patch, gum or stop-smoking pill during pregnancy to help you stop
smoking. We don’t know specific effects on a baby if a woman uses any of
Nicotrol, available as an inhaler, nasal spray, patch or gum, is sold under the brand names Nicoderm and Nicorette; it’s also sold generically. Nicotrol preparations contain nicotine and are not recommended for use during pregnancy.
Zyban (bupropion hydrochloride) is an
oral medication that is a nonnicotine aid to help a person stop smoking.
It’s also sold as the antidepressant Wellbutrin or Wellbutrin SR. It’s
not recommended for pregnant women.
Chantix (varenicline tartrate) is a
relatively new prescription medication available to help someone stop
smoking. It doesn’t contain nicotine, but it’s not recommended for
pregnant women. Studies show it may reduce a fetus’s bone mass and also
cause low birthweight.
Nicotine-replacement therapy may be
suggested if a woman can’t stop smoking on her own. Studies show the
benefits of these products may outweigh the risks, but some experts
disagree. They don’t believe nicotine addiction can be stopped by
nicotine, which is contained in sprays, inhalers, patches and gum.
Discuss the situation with your healthcare provider if you have
Tobacco smoke contains over 250 harmful substances. These substances may be responsible for damaging a developing baby.
Smokers may have more complications during
pregnancy than nonsmokers. Infants born to mothers who smoke weigh less
by nearly half a pound.
Some people believe it’s OK to use
smokeless tobacco during pregnancy. It’s not! Use of any smokeless
tobacco product contributes to nicotine in the bloodstream, which is one
of the main causes of problems.
How Smoking Affects Your Baby and You. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy increases your risk of problems. Smoking also increases risks to
your baby. The incidence of SIDS (sudden-infant-death syndrome) after
birth may be higher, and babies may be more excitable as infants. The
nicotine you take in during pregnancy could lead to nicotine withdrawal
in baby after birth.
Smoking during pregnancy has been
associated with overweight in the child later in life. In addition,
children of smokers are more likely to suffer acute ear infections and
respiratory problems. And studies show if you smoke during pregnancy,
your child may be a smoker as an adult—babies born to moms who smoke
during pregnancy may lean more toward nicotine addiction in the future.
Even if you don’t smoke, you may be at risk. Some studies show a nonsmoker
and her unborn baby exposed to second-hand smoke (cigarette smoke in
the air) are exposed to nicotine and other harmful substances. In
addition, researchers are now talking about a new threat—third-hand smoke.
Third-hand smoke occurs when tobacco toxins stick to fabric, hair, skin
and other surfaces, such as walls, carpets and floors, even after smoke
has disappeared. It can be just as harmful as second hand smoke. A clue
to the presence of third-hand smoke is smell—if you can smell it, it’s
If baby’s dad smoked before
conception and smokes during pregnancy, the child has a higher risk of
developing problems. If both parents smoke while a child is growing up,
that child may have an increased risk of developing leukemia.
Stop Smoking Now.
What can you do? The answer sounds simple but isn’t—quit smoking. In
more realistic terms, if you smoke, cut down or stop smoking before or
during pregnancy. Nearly all health insurance policies provide full
coverage for at least one type of stop-smoking program. Call your
insurance company for further information.
Withdrawal symptoms from smoking are
normal, but they’re a sign your body is healing. Cravings may be
strongest during withdrawal, but after a few weeks, symptoms will
Maybe your pregnancy can serve as good reason for everyone in the family to stop smoking!
Tips to Quit Smoking
• Make a list of things you can
do instead of smoking, especially activities that involve using your
hands, such as puzzles or needlework.
• List things you’d like to buy
for yourself or your baby. Set aside the money you normally spend on
cigarettes to buy these items.
• Identify all your “triggers”—what brings on an urge to smoke. Make plans to avoid triggers or to handle them differently.
• Instead of smoking after meals, brush your teeth, wash dishes or go for a walk.
• If you always smoke while
driving, clean your car inside and out, and use an air freshener. Sing
along with the radio or a CD. Listen to an audio-book. Take a bus, or
carpool for a while.
• Drink lots of water.
• If you continue to have trouble
stopping, one study determined that using a “quitter’s hotline” for
help is twice as effective as going it alone. You can talk directly to
someone who has been through the same experience. If you’re interested,
call the National Partnership to Help Pregnant Smokers Quit at (866)
If you drink alcohol, it carries many
risks. In fact, some experts believe alcohol may be one of the worst
substances a developing baby can be exposed to.
Moderate drinking has been linked to an
increase in problems. Excessive drinking of alcohol during pregnancy may
result in birth defects. Alcohol targets central-nervous-system
development; a baby may also be born with physical defects. Babies born
to mothers who drink while they’re pregnant may suffer the effects of
their mother’s drinking for the rest of their lives.
Drinking during pregnancy has been linked
with behavior problems in a child—the more alcohol a woman drinks, the
more problems the child may have. Drinking during the first trimester
may lead to facial disfigurement. Drinking during the second trimester
can interrupt brain development. In the third trimester, drinking
alcohol can interfere with development of baby’s nervous system.
Taking drugs with
alcohol increases the risk of damage to baby. As a safeguard, be very
careful about over-the-counter cough and cold remedies. Many contain
alcohol—some as much as 25%!
Some pregnant women want to know if they
can drink socially. We don’t know of any safe amount of alcohol a woman
can drink during pregnancy. For the health and well-being of your baby,
don’t drink any alcohol.
Fetal Alcohol Disorders.
Your use of alcohol in pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome and
fetal alcohol exposure in your baby. Both are discussed below. They are
considered part of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), which covers the range of effects that can occur.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is
characterized by smaller growth before and after birth; heart, limb and
facial problems are often seen. An FAS child may also have behavior,
speech and motor-function problems. Fifteen to 20% of them die soon
after birth. Most studies indicate a woman would have to drink four to
five drinks a day for FAS to occur.
Mild defects are the result of fetal alcohol exposure
(FAE). This condition can result from intake of very little alcohol.
The condition has led many researchers to conclude there is no safe level of alcohol consumption
during pregnancy. For this reason, all alcoholic beverages in the
United States carry warning labels similar to those on cigarette
packages that advise women to avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Other Substances to Avoid
Marijuana use by you can disrupt
your baby’s brain development and can cause many problems. Medical
marijuana use during pregnancy is not recommended. Because of known
risks, pregnant women should avoid all marijuana use.
Cocaine can affect a fetus as early as a few days after conception. It can cause various types of deformities. Amphetamines,
including methamphetamine, have been blamed for various birth defects.
Babies born to mothers who used amphetamines experience withdrawal