It's Never Too Late
Deciding to quit is one thing, actually quitting is another. If you're pregnant and haven't yet managed to retire your cigarettes, there's still hope. Dr. Sharon Phelan, a Fellow of ACOG says, "If the woman can stop smoking, particularly before the third trimester, the effects on the baby are minimized because it's the last three months when the baby does the majority of the growth."
Obviously, the earlier you stop smoking, the more beneficial it is to both you and your baby. According to a published report from the March of Dimes, "If a woman stops smoking by the end of her first trimester of pregnancy, she is no more likely to have a low birth weight baby than a woman who never smoked."
If you're able to stop smoking, your baby can begin to feel the effects in just 24 hours. "Nicotine is fairly short-acting. So [it gets] out of the system fairly quickly," says Dr. Phelan, also a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico Health Science Center School of Medicine. The mother's red blood cells are then able to maximize their oxygen-carrying potential instead of using energy to transport the more harmful gases found in smoke.
So what if you've given the habit a nudge but haven't been able to kick it altogether? Is there any benefit to cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke a day? "Every bit helps, but clearly the best thing a smoker can do is to stop altogether," notes Dr. Phelan, adding, "If I had a [patient] and my choice is she goes from two packs a day to one pack a day, or she doesn't change her behavior at all, I'd rather have her go to one pack a day."
How to Quit
Sometimes the unpleasant side effects of pregnancy are enough to get a woman to stop smoking. Strong smells, such as the odor from smoke, often make a pregnant woman nauseous and may even cause vomiting. Alleviating nausea and vomiting may be as simple as saying goodbye to cigarettes. Call it Mother Nature's form of aversion therapy.
But other maternal smokers need to be more proactive. That can mean enlisting the help of their obstetricians. Thanks to a set of guidelines published in 2002 by ACOG, more and more doctors are better equipped to assist their patients in their smoking cessation efforts. Those guidelines are based on the "5 A's":
- Ask the patient about her smoking habits
- Advise her to stop smoking
- Assess her willingness to quit
- Assist her with a plan to quit and with self-help materials
- Arrange to track her progress