How it can hurt
Smoking during pregnancy robs a fetus of oxygen, which can cause slow growth and inadequate weight gain. Smoking also contributes to miscarriage and preterm birth, as well as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), impaired lung function and other complications in babies. Up to 41 percent of all SIDS cases and 10 percent of all infant deaths are attributable to smoking, according to the National Partnership to Help Pregnant Smokers Quit. And research conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Reproductive Health found that women who smoke during pregnancy are much more likely to quit breastfeeding early compared with nonsmokers.
Why tell your doctor
"If a health care provider knows a pregnant woman is smoking, he or she is able to offer help in quitting," Melvin says. Counseling is the first step for a pregnant smoker. Nicotine gum and patches have not been proven safe during pregnancy--in fact, a recent Obstetrics & Gynecology study found that nicotine substitutes such as these appeared to increase the risk of congenital malformations. However, that study has generated controversy among researchers, who say the potential benefits of quitting outweigh the possible risk of nicotine replacement products. Even if you can't quit completely, cutting down helps. "The more you smoke, the higher the risk," Green says. "None is best, but less is better."
For more help
The National Partnership to Help Pregnant Smokers Quit, helppregnantsmokersquit.org, 919-843-7663; the American Legacy Foundation, which offers a quit-line for pregnant smokers, 866-667-8278; or smokefree.gov, a National Cancer Institute website that provides quitting tips and expert support via instant messaging or at 800-784-8669.