Posted by Claudia Grazioso on September 15, 2011
Is there anything that inspires more revulsion than the sight of a pregnant woman smoking? It has become so taboo — and with good reason — that it is almost a given now: If you are pregnant, don’t smoke.
But as any smoker will tell you, quitting is not easy. In fact, it can seem downright impossible. So many people, including pregnant women eager to quit for the sake of their baby, turn to nicotine replacement products. But just how safe are these products?
Of course the jury is still out, and some doctors point out that using a nicotine replacement therapy is preferable to not quitting. Still, it seems that there might be compelling reasons to try to quit without nicotine sprays, gums or patches. In a 2006 study, researchers found that women who used nicotine replacements in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy had a 60 percent higher risk of delivering a child with birth defects, and twice the risk of musculoskeletal malformations.
So what are your options if you are a smoker and become pregnant? Ideally, you’ve thought about it and quit beforehand, but if you didn’t have that chance, Option A is to quit cold turkey. That will immediately spare your child the ill effects of tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine exposure. The downside is that it will probably be hard, and you might experience irritability, depression and anxiety. The other option is to gradually taper off the amount you smoke as soon as you discover you are pregnant. Some doctors feel that if you have completely stopped smoking by your 14th week of pregnancy, there’s a good chance your child will not be harmed. After 14 weeks, the risk of long-term effects to your child, like stunted growth, becomes a lot more likely. If neither of these options will work, then some doctors do feel that pregnant women should use a nicotine replacement. They argue that even if nicotine, a known toxin, is one of the worst chemicals in cigarettes, at least your baby is only being exposed to one of the many nasty things in cigarettes. Still, that may be one toxin too many.
But it is really important to stop smoking. So to minimize your baby’s exposure to nicotine, try using a gum or a spray instead of a 24-hour patch, so you child doesn’t have a constant exposure. If you must use a patch, talk to your doctor about using a 16-hour one instead.
If you’re a smoker and pregnant, talk to your doctor, family and friends about finding the right support to help you quit.