Landmark Study Proves That Smoking During Pregnancy Causes Birth Defects (So Quit!)

No one -- except maybe some of the gals on Mad Men -- think that smoking is good for an unborn baby. But despite years of warnings from the FDA (set to get even bolder on packages, come September 2012), far too many women continue to smoke during pregnancy. A shocking 20 percent of pregnant women reported smoking in 2009, according to the March of Dimes.

When a mom-to-be smokes, harmful chemicals such as nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide cross the placenta, depriving a baby-to-be of the oxygen it needs for healthy development. They can also increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, low birthweight, and birth defects.

In the first-ever (can you believe it?) comprehensive study of smoking and birth defects, researchers at the University College London discovered a link between smoking and common birth defects, such as heart problems, cleft lip and palate, club foot and defects of the eyes and gastrointestinal system. After examining over 170 research articles from 1959 to 2010, they determined that smoking is related to a 9 percent increase in heart defects and 19 percent increase in facial deformities. 

Are you one of the one in five moms-to-be who smoke? If so, you can quit. Here's help to get you started:

Reach out to your healthcare provider. Be honest about your smoking habits. Ask your doctor if nicotine replacement therapy (the “patch,” gums, sprays) might be an option. The authors of the study say that “it is worthwhile considering the use of nicotine replacement therapy during pregnancy.”

Ditch the cigarettes. Don’t keep a pack in your house or car, just in case. That’s setting yourself up for failure. Set yourself up for success instead.

Start a baby fund. How much are you spending on cigarettes a week? Drop that money in a special jar labeled “Baby” instead. It’ll be a visual reminder of your commitment to your child – and a great start to your nursery fund.

Enlist a friend. Got a friend you can trust to cheer you on? Let her know that you’re quitting. Schedule weekly (or daily) check in calls. If you feel tempted to light up, dial her digits instead.

Stay away from temptation. To succeed, you’ll need to develop new habits. Always light up after dinner? Push yourself away from the table and head out for a walk instead.

Know that it’s not easy to quit smoking. But if you quit, you’re doing everything you can to give your baby a healthy start in the world – and that’s the first step to being a good mom.

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