Can I smoke while pregnant?

Q: I'm not a chain smoker, but I enjoy an occasional cigarette. Can I still have a few once I get pregnant?

A: You might think that a cigarette every now and then can't hurt your unborn baby too much, but that's simply not true. Cigarette smoke contains more than 2,500 chemicals and many -- especially the nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide -- are very harmful to your pregnancy and unborn baby even in small amounts. Secondhand smoke is dangerous too, so now's a good time to convince your partner to kick the habit if he smokes too. And make sure to steer clear of smoky bars and restaurants.

As you might suspect, there's a whole laundry list of pregnancy complications linked to smoking, including miscarriage and stillbirth. Studies have shown that smoking during pregnancy can cause birth defects and nearly doubles your risk of having a low birth weight baby, which can in turn lead to conditions like cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and learning problems. And babies born to moms who smoke are twice as likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as babies of nonsmokers.

If you currently smoke, it's not too late to quit. Stopping during the first trimester or, better yet, before you start trying, can greatly reduce your risk of having a low birth weight baby and other smoking-related problems. If you need help quitting, talk your doctor, who can advise you on the safest methods while you're trying to conceive or during pregnancy. --Karen Bilich

Copyright 2009

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