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Dec 17, 2008

What smoking can do to your unborn child…

IT seems to be an obvious fact that pregnant women should not smoke. In fact, it is an undeniable truth. However, it is important to take a step further into understanding the detrimental dangers of smoking, and how it affects pregnancy. Smoking affects pregnancy in various damaging ways, e.g. miscarriage and spontaneous abortion, and has a long-term effect on the foetus, such as increased risk of developing respiratory illnesses.

Nicotine, the hazardous ingredient in a cigarette, is the major culprit affecting smokers at large and particularly pregnant women. Nicotine intake during pregnancy affects the supply of oxygen and nutrents to the foetus. Nicotine may result in sudden infant death syndrome, abnormal lung development, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and an ectopic pregnancy.

Smoking limits the nutrition that a baby receives while in the womb. Being malnourished is detrimental to a baby’s brain, affecting the mental development. Nicotine also has a damaging effect on developing nerve cells, which might result in brain malformations, poor functioning, and learning problems. There is also a tendency of developing behavioural problems.

The delivery of blood to the placenta and the transmission of oxygen and nutrients to the foetus are greatly affected by spasms of the arteries. The lack of oxygen and nutrients for the foetus can also result in smaller size or underweight babies. Babies who are born prematurely, smaller in size or underweight could struggle with learning problems throughout their entire lives.

Smoking is also known to cause vascular diseases. Therefore, another risk for pregnant women who smoke is blocked blood vessels, leading to placental abruption, the separation of the placenta from the uterus wall. This might lead to vaginal bleeding in late pregnancy, premature birth, foetal distress and even death.

Carbon monoxide is another harmful element found in a cigarette. Mothers who smoke have more carbon monoxide and less oxygen in the body. But babies require a good supply of oxygen to grow. Thus, in order to compensate for the short supply of oxygen, some foetuses try to produce extra red blood cells to carry more oxygen.

In rare cases, the blood tends to get too thick from the increasing amount of red blood cells. Thick blood has the tendency of forming unwanted blood clots that can block blood supply to the vital organs. When vital organs are deprived of blood supply, the consequences can be critical and even fatal.

There are many other possible complications, such as premature rupture of the membranes, congenital heart diseases, asthma and allergies.

For women who have been smoking before they were pregnant, if they are able to quit smoking by 16 weeks of gestation, many of the complications mentioned above could be minimised or even altogether avoided .

Most of us are aware that as long as a pregnant woman remains smoke-free, the mother and foetus will be well. However, a non-smoking expectant mother is not exactly smoke-free. We need to take into account the surrounding environment that the woman lives in.

Passive smoking, also known as second-hand smoke, puts a foetus at risk as much as first-hand smoke does. It increases the risk of genetic mutation to the babies when there is exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy, especially during the foetal development stage.

Second-hand smoke exposure is just as damaging as active smoking and leads to lifelong repercussions mentioned earlier in this article, such as affecting survival, birth weight, and susceptibility to diseases. If a woman is trying to build a family, the best option is to quit smoking. Or if the woman is already pregnant, ensure people around her quit smoking for the sake of the unborn child.

Breaking the urge to smoke is not easy due to nicotine dependence. Within seconds of the first inhalation of a cigarette, nicotine arrives at the brain’s reward pathways, where it triggers the release of dopamine, resulting in an immediate reward sensation.

Nicotine binds to nicotinic receptors in the brain, augmenting the release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine.

Consequently, habitual use of nicotine from smoking causes dependency and can cause an increase in tolerance. Because nicotine is so addictive, smokers, especially those who consume more than one pack per day, have a difficult time quitting.

There are smoking cessation aids available in the market such as nicotine replacement therapy and non-nicotine oral tables. It is advisable to speak to a doctor or pharmacist about the best treatment options available, especially for expectant or breastfeeding mothers, as nicotine replacement therapy might be toxic and harmful to the foetus.

Encourage your spouse or family members to kick the habit as second-hand smoke plays a big role too. Smokers need considerable support to quit successfully. It has been proven that a smoking cessation therapy combined with a support programme greatly increases the smoker’s chance of quitting successfully and staying off cigarettes thereafter. The support network can also include the smoker’s family members and friends.

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Anonymous said...

image is nice...

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