Smoking and Alcohol During Pregnancy

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Smoking during pregnancy

Like drinking too much alcohol or doing drugs, smoking is also very harmful to your health. It can cause serious health conditions including cancer, heart disease, stroke and gum disease. It can also cause eye diseases that can lead to blindness. Smoking can be a cause for delaying pregnancy.

Smoking and your baby

Not only is smoking harmful to you, it’s also harmful to your baby during pregnancy. When you smoke during pregnancy, your baby is exposed to dangerous chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar. These chemicals can lessen the amount of oxygen that your baby gets. Oxygen is very important for helping your baby grow healthy. Smoking can also damage your baby’s lungs. Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have pregnancy outside the womb known as ectopic pregnancy. They may suffer from vaginal bleeding and placental detachment from the wall of the womb before delivery, or a low lying placenta covering the opening of the womb. All these problems can lead to massive bleeding which can be risky to both baby and mother. 

Babies born to women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to be born with birth defects such as cleft lip and palate where there is a defect in the development of the lips and or the palate. They are more likely to be born early and to have low birth weight. Babies born prematurely and at low birth weight are at risk of other serious health problems, including lifelong disabilities (such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation and learning problems), and in some cases, death. 

Passive smoking

Breathing in someone else’s smoke is also harmful. Secondhand smoke during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born at low birth weight. Secondhand smoke is also dangerous to young children. Babies exposed to smoke are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome, also known as sudden cot death. They are at greater risk for asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, recurrent ear infections and respiratory symptoms.

New research shows that third hand smoke is another health hazard. Third hand smoke is made up of the toxic gases and particles left behind from cigarette or cigar smoking. These toxic remains, which include lead, arsenic and carbon monoxide, cling to things like clothes, hair, couches and carpets well after the smoke from a cigarette or cigar has cleared the room. That’s why you often can tell a smoker by the smell of cigarettes or cigars that linger on his clothing or in his home or car. Things like cracking the car window down while you smoke or smoking in another room aren’t enough to keep others away from the harm caused by cigarettes or cigars.

Breathing in these toxins at an early age (babies and young children) may have devastating health problems like asthma and other breathing issues, learning disorders and cancer. It’s important that expecting moms and their children do their best to keep away from places where people smoke.

Reasons to quit

The sooner you quit smoking during pregnancy, the healthier you and your baby will be. It’s best to quit smoking before getting pregnant. But if you’re pregnant, this would be a great opportunity to kick the habit.

Some women may mistakenly think that switching to “light” or “mild” cigarettes are a safer choice during pregnancy. Other pregnant women may want to cut down on smoking rather than quitting altogether. It’s true that the less you smoke, the better off baby will be. But quitting smoking is the best way to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.

Besides, when you quit smoking, you’ll never again have to go outside and look for a place to smoke. You’ll also have cleaner teeth, fresher breath, fewer stain marks on your fingers, less skin wrinkles, a better sense of smell & taste and more strength and ability to be more active.

How to quit

You need to remind yourself with all the risks of smoking and the benefits of quitting. Get rid of all your cigarettes and their accessories. Go for a walk and drink plenty of water. Keep yourself busy doing things Stay away from places and friends who smoke. Plenty of vegetables and fruits may be helpful. There are a variety of medications available in the market that may help you quit like patches, chewing gum, tablets.

Can I drink alcohol while I’m pregnant?

We don’t know for sure how much alcohol it’s safe for you to have while you’re pregnant. That’s why many experts advise you to cut out alcohol throughout pregnancy or at least for the first three months.

If you do decide to drink alcohol while you are pregnant, it’s best to stick to light drinking. That’s no more than one or two units of alcohol, no more than once or twice a week.

Heavy or binge drinking is dangerous for your baby. Heavy drinking is six or more units of alcohol a day. If you have five or more units in a session, it is binge drinking.

Why is alcohol a problem?

Alcohol is a toxin. When you drink alcohol, it rapidly reaches your baby across the placenta, via your bloodstream.

If you drink too much alcohol during pregnancy it can permanently damage your developing baby’s cells. This could affect how your baby’s face, organs and brain grow.

Heavy drinking can also damage your baby’s nervous system.This can result in your baby having learning difficulties and problems with movement and coordination throughout his life.

The term for all these problems is fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). It’s called a spectrum because the problems can range from mild learning difficulties, through to birth defects.

Full-blown fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is at the extreme end of the spectrum of disorders. Babies with FAS tend to have facial defects, to be born small and to carry on being small for their age. These children will have learning difficulties, poor coordination and behavioral problems for the rest of their lives.

FAS is rare. FASD is more common. Heavy drinking can also cause problems with your pregnancy, such as miscarriage and premature delivery. Too much alcohol can even increase the risk of your baby being dead. It’s because of the harm that too much alcohol may cause an unborn baby, that experts are wary of saying what is safe during pregnancy.

What are the proven risks of drinking in pregnancy?

There are several things that can influence how much your unborn baby may be harmed by alcohol. It depends on how much alcohol you have, how far in your pregnancy when you have the alcohol and obviously how often you drink throughout your pregnancy

It’s not just your first trimester when you need to be careful. Your baby is also vulnerable to the effects of alcohol in the third trimester. At this stage, your baby is growing more and his brain is developing.

Drinking heavily and often affects a developing baby and can result in FASD. Binge drinking can be particularly harmful. If you binge drink, you are at more risk of having a baby with FAS than if you drink the same amount over a longer period.

Experts are less sure whether or not drinking at lower levels is dangerous. Obstetricians say there is no proof of harm from light drinking. Light drinking is no more than one to two units of alcohol, no more than once or twice a week during pregnancy.

How much is a unit of alcohol?

One unit of alcohol is defined as 10ml of pure alcohol (ethanol). You can find out exactly how many units of alcohol are in a bottle by reading its label .Labels on a drink show its percentage of alcohol by volume.

It’s worth bearing in mind that most people who pour drinks at home tend to be generous with their measures. And be aware that many wine bars and pubs now sell wine in large glasses. Depending on the strength of the wine, large glasses can contain up to three units.

I drank before I knew I’d conceived. Will my baby be OK?

You’re not alone. Thousands of women have a few drinks before realising they are pregnant.

We don’t know for sure what a few drinks over a short period early in pregnancy can do to a developing baby .That’s why the Department of Health recommends that you give up drinking before you get pregnant. However, babies have a habit of turning up when they’re least expected! The important thing is to cut out alcohol, or be careful about how much you drink, once you know you’re expecting.

What can I drink instead of alcohol?

Stopping drinking or cutting down on alcohol may be easy if nausea means you go off it early in your pregnancy. If you enjoy using alcohol to unwind, giving it up may be harder.

Try replacing a glass of beer or wine with other stress-easing pleasures, such as a warm bath, soft music, a massage, exercise or reading.

If you miss the ritual of drinking, replace that Bloody Mary with a virgin variety. Switch to a non-alcoholic beer or wine during your evening meal. If your partner enjoys a drink after work, consider asking him to abstain for a time so you won’t feel deprived.

I’m struggling to give up. What can I do?

If you think you may have a drink problem, talk with your doctor. Your doctor won’t judge you. It’s his job to help you have as healthy a pregnancy as possible. And asking for help just shows how much you care about your baby.

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