The Impact of Maternal Smoking During Pregnancy

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan
The effects of smoking during pregnancy could have short-term and long-term consequences. It has been associated with increased risk of low birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation, and increased infant mortality rate.


Smoking can make it harder for you to get pregnant because it increases the risk of fertility problems for both you and your partner. Maternal smoking, while pregnant, could cause severe harm to your health and that of the baby. Mothers who expose their babies to secondhand smoking also put their health and development at risk.

To motivate you to create your personal stop-smoking plan it is first essential that you realize just how bad maternal smoking can be on both you and your baby. 

Impact of Maternal Smoking on You and the Unborn Baby

Even after a full-term pregnancy, babies born to smoking mothers could be born too small. Maternal smoking slows the fetus’ growth before birth.

It could also lead to premature birth, where the baby is born too early. Babies born three weeks or more before the due date are premature.

Premature babies miss significant growth that happens the uterus during months and final weeks of pregnancy. They are at a higher risk of having severe health problems and sometimes premature death.

Premature babies might have to stay in the hospital for days, weeks, and sometimes months. They could have:

  • Feeding difficulties
  • Low birth weight
  • Breathing problems that happen right away and could last into their childhood
  • Problems with eyesight or hearing
  • Cerebral palsy- brain damage that results in trouble with muscle tone and movement
  • Developmental delays – the baby could lag behind in thinking, language, and movement skills

Maternal smoking can also damage the baby's developing brain and lungs, and sometimes the damage can last through the baby's childhood and teen years.

Maternal smoking also doubles a woman’s risk of unusual bleeding during pregnancy and delivery. Abnormal bleeding not only puts the mother at risk but the baby as well.

It also raises the baby's risk of congenital disabilities like cleft palate, cleft lip, or both. This is an opening in the roof of the baby's mouth or in the baby's lip. Babies with cleft palates or lips might have trouble eating correctly and could require surgery. Maternal smoking also increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

How Cessation of Maternal Smoking can help You and Your Baby

The best time for smoking cessation is before getting pregnant. However, you can quit any time during your pregnancy, and your baby will still benefit from this. We recommend talking to your doctor about the best ways to quit if you're trying to get pregnant.

When maternal smoking stops:

  • Your baby grows better
  • The baby will get more oxygen even after a day
  • You minimize the risk of premature birth
  • You will breathe more easily and have more energy
  • You will be less likely to develop stroke, lung disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and other smoking-related diseases

Cessation isn't always natural during pregnancy. Women who smoke while they're pregnant feel alone and ashamed. However, with the right support, pregnant women can get through unique challenges of maternal smoking cessation during pregnancy.

With cessation of maternal smoking, you can expect:

  • Fewer chest colds and coughs
  • Decreased risk of pneumonia and bronchitis
  • Fewer wheezing problems and asthma
  • Fewer ear infections

It’s never too late to quit smoking. If you smoked before and had a healthy pregnancy and baby, there is no guarantee that you will get lucky the second time.

Infographic source:

Maternal smoking during pregnancy puts your health and that of the baby at risk. Rather than having your baby be born too early, have a congenital disability, or die from SIDS, get the help you need, and get started on a smoking cessation plan.

Authors note:

Visit to learn more about Smoking and Pregnancy.

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Let me know what you think.

  1. This is super scary. I wish more women would realize the terrible harm that they're doing to themselves and their unborn child.

    1. There was a time when this fad had reduced but scarily it has increased again. I don't really understand why.

  2. This is really informative, and you have explained it in an easy language. Would like to add that passive smoking is equally bad so the couple planning should quit it altogether.

    1. Passive smoking is a real horror that needs to be addressed and discussed openly in families.

  3. Informative and I wish more women who are wanting to be mothers read this.

  4. This is really scary! I hope more mothers to be recognise how harmful smoking can be during pregnancy!

    1. It really should not have to be said... but sadly it still does. In India, more sadly even second hand smoke is a huge concern during pregnancy

  5. If someone smokes few meters away I feel already suffocated. I had a neighbor who entire family smoked together. When they start their session, I bring my little one inside, close the windows, doors and stay inside. I'm kind of allergic to smoking. So I cannot stand smokers. I hope people understand how smoking is impacting others too. If it's so hard for an adult to cope up with it, cannot imagine how much a child would suffer.

    1. the amount of suffering is the thing here... a kid's whole life is ruined just because a mother chose to smoke in spite of so much info warning her of how bad things are

  6. Very well written and informative! It is a much needed post

  7. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of so many health problems for the developing child. Hope more women realize this and stop smoking. Thanks for this comprehensive and informative post, Roshan.

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