Q. I can't stop smoking, even though I know it's bad for my baby. Can you help?
A. If at first you don't succeed, then you owe it to your baby and yourself to try again. Smoking can harm your baby at any stage of pregnancy. Many studies have shown that pregnant moms who smoke are more likely to have babies with lower birthweights, cleft lips or cleft palates, asthma, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. What's more, if you smoke after your baby is born, you increase the risk of SIDS.
This is a long way of saying that you should do everything possible to kick the cigarette habit. If you cannot quit entirely, then make a herculean effort to at least cut back on the number of cigarettes you smoke; this will reduce the health risks to you and your child. Here are some strategies to tap the next time you feel like smoking:
- Carry one of your baby's ultrasound pictures with you. Look at it every time you think about having a cigarette.
- Try aversion therapy. Every time you have heartburn or feel nauseous, say the word "cigarette" to yourself so that you start associating the word with a bad physical feeling.
- Tape your own scary warning to your cigarette packs: "Cigarettes will hurt my baby."
- Ask your partner to quit smoking or to refrain from smoking around you. That will reduce the temptation for you and lessen the effects of secondhand smoke on your baby
- Figure out what prompts you to smoke and substitute an action. Do you smoke when you feel nervous and want to calm down? Then fiddle with a pencil or chew a piece of gum instead. Are you seeking stimulation?
- Try taking a short, brisk walk. The less you smoke, the healthier your baby will be
- Hang out in places where smoking is prohibited, like movies and cafes
- Ask your provider about using a nicotine patch, nicotine gum, or a medication to help you quit. Studies of how these methods affect pregnancy are still being conducted, so safety remains a concern
- Your provider might also suggest alternative methods to reduce your craving for cigarettes, such as hypnosis or acupuncture.
If all else fails, at least reduce the amount of poisons to which you're exposing yourself and your baby by smoking each cigarette only halfway down.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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