When you’re pregnant, there are a million things you are not supposed to do. What you eat is what your baby eats. What you drink is what your baby drinks, and what you inhale or ingest are what goes directly to your baby as well.
The laundry list of pregnancy “dos” and “don’ts” is hard to keep up on, especially when doctors are constantly changing and identifying new foods and other allergens to add to the list of what pregnant women should avoid.
The more obvious rules of pregnancy, that haven’t really changed over the years, are don’t eat raw fish (sushi), don’t drink alcohol or take any drugs, and don’t smoke cigarettes. It makes perfect sense that a tiny version of you, who is growing little by little each day, would not benefit from being exposed to harmful chemicals from day 1.
Smoking does not offer anything positive to anybody, so it is of course even more harmful to a new life. Nicotine is highly addictive. The carcinogens in cigarettes are dangerously unhealthy to anyone, and especially to a growing fetus.
Nicotine, as a drug, constricts blood vessels, so a woman who smokes while pregnant is restricting the amount of oxygen and nutrients that her baby is receiving. The carbon monoxide that mom is breathing in also restricts the baby’s ability to get enough oxygen.
Consequences of smoking while pregnant
Women who smoke while pregnant have many more complications than those who do not smoke, simple as that. Many things for the mother and the new fetus can go horribly wrong when the woman smokes during pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancy, where the fetus attaches somewhere outside the uterus, is most common in women who smoke before and during pregnancy. The fetus has almost no chance of survival without the hospitable environment that the uterus provides. An ectopic pregnancy is potentially fatal for both the mother and the child.
Putting your kids at risk of substance abuse
New information is also showing that mothers who smoke while pregnant put their kids at risk of substance abuse. The reward system of the brain is what responds to nicotine, and cigarettes overall. If a fetus is exposed to early on, the brain’s reward system is already triggered by a chemical instead of being given a chance at normal functioning.
The need for external satisfaction is developed while still growing inside the mother who is smoking. The changes to the reward system are the same changes seen in the brain of an addict or alcoholic. Booze and drugs change the way we feel. When a substance makes us feel good, we believe this is a positive reward, and we seek that high, buzz, or just overall good feeling again.
When your system feels rewarded by nicotine, it is hard to not want to smoke cigarettes. When a fetus and then a newborn baby has experienced nicotine as a brain reward, the brain chemistry has already been altered.
New studies are showing that the link between reward because of pregnancy smoking and the development of an addiction during that child’s life is high.
Bottom line: if you smoke while pregnant, your child is exposed to dangerous chemicals. Why start a life off like that? Let’s educate women on the why of the dos and don’ts of pregnancy.
Kate Green is a quality improvement manager for Balboa Horizons Treatment Services, her passion is helping improve the live’s of others who struggle with substance abuse.