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Nicotine Addiction and Pregnancy: Tips for Low-Stress Smoking Cessation

Updated on August 23, 2014

You probably already know the facts about smoking: It's bad for your health and it can result in low birth weight and in birth defects if you continue to smoke during your pregnancy. Your doctor has probably advised you to quit the nicotine habit, but how do you go about doing that?

The stress of quitting nicotine can be insurmountable for some people, and even some medical professionals believe it's better to continue smoking than to put your body through the stress of stopping cold turkey. With more and more programs to help you quit smoking, however, you have new resources available to you.

This article provides you with information on the effects of nicotine on your growing baby, information on how I quit smoking, and support for those who need some extra encouragement.

You are welcomed and encouraged to comment on this hub as well as to contact me via the Pregnancy Now Tumblr if you need support. If you contact me off-anon, I will always provide you with a private response.

Support is critical to smoking cessation!

Talk to your doctor about quitting smoking as early in your pregnancy as possible. Don't wait! He is an important part of your support team.
Talk to your doctor about quitting smoking as early in your pregnancy as possible. Don't wait! He is an important part of your support team. | Source

Your Doctor's Involvement

Before beginning any smoking cessation program, you should consult with your doctor about the potential effect of quitting on your body and your baby. Your doctor will be able to support and advise you during the process and to provide added assistance if quitting cold turkey isn't working for you.

Remember that your doctor is a critical part of your pregnancy team, even if you have chosen to work with a midwife or to have an unassisted pregnancy and/or free birth.

Talk to your doctor before starting a smoking cessation program. Your doctor will be able to customize a program for you and make sure that you have all the tools you need at your disposal.

If You are Pregnant. . .

Do you smoke?

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As Many as 20% of Women Smoke While Pregnant

White women were the most likely so smoke during their pregnancies, while black women and hispanic women showed lower rates (1 out of 5 white women smoke while pregnant, study reveals). Regardless, the point remains the same: Women continue to smoke during pregnancy in spite of knowing that it benefits them and their baby if they quit.

A cigarette habit can prevent you from becoming pregnant in the first place, or can result in low birth weight babies and problems for your child after birth as well. Take this into consideration when deciding to quit, because if there is one thing I know for sure, it's that you have to want to quit smoking in order to actually do it.

Every woman wants to have a healthy baby, but sometimes it's difficult to quit smoking, and some women worry that the stress of quitting outweighs the positive benefits.
Every woman wants to have a healthy baby, but sometimes it's difficult to quit smoking, and some women worry that the stress of quitting outweighs the positive benefits. | Source

Nicotine and Carbon Monoxide cause the majority of smoking-related pregnancy complications.

How Does Smoking Affect the Unborn Baby?

When you are pregnant, your body provides the only source of nourishment for your baby. Everything you consume -- including the chemical cocktail in cigarettes -- travels through your blood stream, through the placenta, and to your baby. Think of it this way: Everything in your blood will pass into your baby's blood. When you consume any poison, your baby's body will be affected by that poison or drug. This is why you are advised to be especially careful about what you eat, drink, or take while you are pregnant.

While none of the chemicals in cigarettes are good for your growing baby, two in particular cause the majority of smoking-related complications during pregnancy: Nicotine and Carbon Monoxide.

Nicotine causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing the amount of oxygen that can get to your baby through your blood stream. Your red blood cells, which ordinarily carry oxygen through your blood stream, begin to pick up carbon monoxide molecules instead. Together, these chemicals cut off your baby's supply of oxygen.

Risks of Smoking During Pregnancy

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Birth Defects

The Effect of Smoking on an Unborn Baby

You've probably already heard this all before, but it bears repeating. The most common effects of smoking on the unborn baby are listed to the right for your convenience.

The most important thing for you to understand about the effect of smoking on your unborn baby is that smoking during pregnancy causes a reduction in the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your unborn infant gets through the placenta and your blood stream.

If you think critically about this, you should quickly come to understand that smoking may cause your baby to be born smaller than she would be if you hadn't smoked during your pregnancy.

Why? Because the nutrients and oxygen that nicotine and carbon monoxide are robbing her of are required in order to promote growth.

Smoking during pregnancy may even result in stillbirth. It's best to quit smoking before you become pregnant, but now that you know you're pregnant, it's essential that you quit NOW.

Quitting early in pregnancy greatly reduces the risks to your baby's health -- and yours!
Quitting early in pregnancy greatly reduces the risks to your baby's health -- and yours! | Source

Have you decided to quit smoking?

See results

"I'm here to help you every step of the way, but first, you should keep reading this article."

So You Want to Give Up Smoking for Your Baby?

Now that you know the risks of smoking during pregnancy, no doubt you're ready to give up nicotine in order to support the growth and development of your baby.

If you've chosen to quit smoking, that's great! I'm so proud of you! This is the best decision that you could make for yourself and for your baby and I want to see you succeed. As an ex-smoker myself, I have a personal investment in seeing you successfully give up nicotine!

I'm here to help you every step of the way, but first, you should keep reading this article. I will provide you with tips for how to quit and outline the system that I used to give up smoking permanently and with minimal stress. If at all possible, I want to see this be as stress-free for you as it can be, without complications.

Just remember to contact your doctor for advice about your health through this process. It's important, for both you and your baby, that you keep in contact with him to make sure that everything is progressing as it should.

"Remember that you have to want to stop smoking if you're going to succeed at doing it."

The First Step: Decide to Quit

The first step to quitting smoking is to decide that you're going to do it. Whatever your reasons for deciding to give up cigarettes, good for you! I'm proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself!

Remember that you have to want to stop smoking if you're going to succeed at doing it. I suggest writing down your reasons for wanting to quit, as your notes are something you'll be able to reference time and again in order support your efforts.

The first step to quitting smoking for yourself and your baby is to decide you're serious about making it happen. Nothing will happen easily if you aren't sure you're finished with cigarettes and their control over you.

Reasons to Tell People You Plan to Give Up Tobacco

  1. So they can support you.
  2. So they will hold you accountable.
  3. So they will stop offering you cigarettes.

Tell People You Plan on Quitting Smoking!

It may be tempting to keep the news that you plan to quit smoking to yourself, but it's better for you if you let your friends and family know of your intentions.

An important component of success is the support that you will receive from your friends, family, and coaches. In order to receive this support, you'll need to let everyone know that you plan on stopping your cigarette habit.

Setting a date enhances your chances of successfully quitting!
Setting a date enhances your chances of successfully quitting! | Source

Step 2: Set a Quit Date

If you're sure that you want to quit smoking for a healthier pregnancy, the next step is to set a quit date.

Some sources will tell you to set your date within a week of the time you commit to quitting. I argue that you should give yourself between four and six weeks to work your way through a program that will ease you off the nicotine.

The sooner you quit the better -- don't misunderstand me. No matter how you cut it, quitting immediately is better for you than giving yourself four weeks to get it down. But when you quit smoking, you're working on changing a habit, and that's going to take some work. Since you can't take NRT (nicotine replacement therapies) while you're pregnant, you'll need to exercise incredible willpower -- or follow the steps listed below.

Quitting cold turkey is highly stressful, and stress isn't good for your baby. The following steps will help to make quitting as stress-free as possible. It will always be a stressful process, but this should help to ease your mind a bit.

The sooner you quit, the better the benefits to you and your baby.
The sooner you quit, the better the benefits to you and your baby. | Source
Don't let cigarettes and smoking control you!
Don't let cigarettes and smoking control you! | Source

Step 3: Determine Your Types of Addiction to Smoking

If you're struggling to quit smoking, you probably aren't just addicted to the nicotine in the cigarettes, but to the act of smoking. I've provided a table below to discuss the different types of addictions to smoking and how they work, so that you can review this and determine where you fit in. You may be addicted in more than one way, and that's okay. It's relatively easy to beat all of these types of addiction.

The physical addiction is actually the easy part.

I recommend writing down the types of addiction you think you're suffering, so that you can work through them. Remember to try not to stress while you do this. Don't panic: It's not good for the baby, either!

Physical Addiction
Emotional Addiction
Psychological Addiction
Withdrawal Symptoms (including nervousness and anxiety) when nicotine begins to leave the bood stream.
Cigarettes comfort you when you're feeling stressed, depressed, or just plain blue. They are your go-to.
You smoke whenever you're involved in certain activities, such as drinking coffee, writing, or talking on the phone. It's a habit.
Cravings for the next cigarette (including metallic taste in the mouth and similar sensation to food cravings.)
Cigarettes are a reward for a job well done. You smoke because you've done something you need to reward yourself for, such as working out or eating well.
You smoke before or after certain activities, such as eating dinner or finishing washing the dishes. This is similar to rewarding yourself with a cigarette.
Sensation of physically needing to have a cigarette, even though you know they aren't good for you.
You feel dependent on cigarettes and experience anxiety when somebody tries to talk to you about quitting.
You have to make sure you have a last cigarette before bed because how will you make it through the night without one?

"Won't it stress my body to quit smoking during pregnancy?"

The adverse health effects for you and your baby far outweigh the risks associated with quitting. Physical addiction to nicotine is the least of your worries when you're trying to quit.

The Three Types of Smoking Addiction

Physical Addiction

You're most familiar with the physical addiction to the cigarettes, and this is probably the part that you're most worried about. "Won't it stress my body physically to quit smoking during pregnancy?" When I was pregnant with my first, my midwife discouraged me from quitting because she perceived that the stress of quitting outweighed its benefits.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that quitting is worse for your pregnancy than continuing to smoke. Quit now for you and your baby!

The physical addiction to nicotine is going to cause you some anxiety. There's no way to get around this. But bear in mind that this anxiety could last as little as five hours or as much as five days. It's incredibly rare that the physical symptoms of withdrawal last longer than that, as the nicotine has completely left your system by that point. If you can hold out for that long, you're already finished quitting -- as long as you deal with the other types of addiction as well.

Emotional Addiction

Years later, when I look at my lifestyle now vs. the lifestyle I had when I was smoking, I realize how often I rewarded myself with cigarettes. I was very much an emotional smoker. Cigarettes were a comfort when I was stressed (and I have severe anxiety issues), or a reward for going for a walk or working out, or for writing a chapter, or for knitting a few rows. Everything was cause for a cigarette.

This is only one aspect of emotional smoking. You may use smoking as a means to comfort yourself when you're stressed or upset (sucking like an infant does!), or to reward yourself, or the thought of quitting makes you so anxious that it seems pointless to quit in the first place, especially considering you're concerned about your pregnancy!

Psychological Addiction

These are the habits that you have associated with your smoking. Like the physical addiction, these are incredibly common. Some people smoke socially, or when they drink coffee, or when they're on the phone, or writing (this is very common!). Most smokers smoke after a meal, or first thing in the morning, or last thing before bed. These are the habits that you have associated with your smoking, and this is the psychological aspect of your addiction.

Reasons People Smoke Emotionally

  • Smoking is a comfort when you're stressed.
  • Smoking is a reward for a job well done.
  • Smoking is a consolation when you failed.
  • Smoking is a friend when your friends don't answer your texts.

Why do you smoke emotionally?

What are your emotional reasons for picking up a cigarette (if you're an emotional smoker)? Try the quick checklist to the right. This should help you to begin forming healthier habits (see step 4) in order to aid in the process of putting cigarettes down for good.

I recommend writing this information down somewhere. Maybe keep it in a quit folder that you can review when you're tempted to smoke, in order to remind yourself that you don't want to let cigarettes maintain their hold on you (see the video above. It features a teen girl, but it's highly relevant).

Common Times People Smoke

  • First thing in the morning.
  • After meals.
  • With a cup of coffee.
  • On the phone.
  • At the computer.
  • Last thing before bed.

What are your smoking habits?

As with the emotional reasons, I highly recommend writing these down so that you can review them. Breaking these habits is the most critical step in breaking your addiction to cigarettes and smoking, so it's crucial that you follow the instructions and determine what your smoking habits are so that you can begin to wean yourself off the habits and replace those you can't wean.

I've listed some common times that people smoke to the right. You're more than welcome to add to this list on your own or to comment here with your smoking habits.

Cigarettes leave behind nasty butts, bad breathe, and a horrible odor that's obvious to non-smokers, and more so to ex-smokers.
Cigarettes leave behind nasty butts, bad breathe, and a horrible odor that's obvious to non-smokers, and more so to ex-smokers. | Source
Eating apples can help to make you more alert in the morning and works better than coffee! You shouldn't be drinking the caffeine anyway.
Eating apples can help to make you more alert in the morning and works better than coffee! You shouldn't be drinking the caffeine anyway. | Source

Step 4: Replace Bad Habits with Healthy Habits

This is where things can be fun, if you let them. Before you start to cut out the habitual cigarettes where habits cannot be changed, you'll start by replacing your bad habits with healthier habits.

For example, if you normally smoke a cigarette after dinner, try folding origami instead (if you make one of these stars for every cigarette you would have smoked, you have a great visual in a jar of the progress you've made, even before you quit!). You could also brush your teeth (who wants to smoke after brushing their teeth and stink their breath up again?) or go for a walk.

Replace the habitual cigarettes, wherever possible, with healthier habits. Instead of smoking first thing when you wake up, eat an apple. Not only does the apple help to make you more alert, but it's a healthy habit that replaces your cigarette. Use the teeth-brushing trick right before bed.

You don't need to replace every cigarette at the same time. Change one habit at a time, and don't worry about stopping. Just worry about replacing for the time being, and don't focus on the in-between cigarettes at all.

Setting a timer will help you to cut out whole cigarettes from your day!
Setting a timer will help you to cut out whole cigarettes from your day! | Source

Step 5: Set a Timer

If you're using habit-replacement as indicated above, you're probably wondering how you get to those in-between cigarettes when your body is telling you that you need the nicotine. If you don't smoke a cigarette after a meal, for example, does that mean that you don't smoke at all before bed?

Eventually, that's what it means. But not yet.

Set a timer. Start by making yourself wait fifteen minutes after a meal before you can smoke, or fifteen minutes after waking up, or smoking fifteen minutes before you go to bed. Then set the timer for thirty minutes. When you're comfortable with that, set it to an hour.

If you can make it to an hour without smoking a cigarette, you've reduced your habit by that one cigarette every day.

Between steps 4 and 5 you will eliminate your habitual (psychological) cigarettes and ovecome your psychological addiction, leaving you with the emotional addiction (because by this point you've almost finished with your physical addiction too).

Step 6: Get Support

The only way to beat the emotional parts of your addiction are to do it with a friend. Replacement will only get you so far, and then it's best if you're replacing your cigarette with a diary or with a friend. While diaries are wonderful, a good friend offers feedback and can remind you that you're worth it.

Step 7: Get Rid of Cigarettes and Ashtrays

This one should be obvious. Get all the cigarettes, all of the ashtrays, and all of the lighters out of your house. Then they won't be a temptation to you when you're having a weak moment.

You can do this!

Step 8: Quit!

If you've followed these steps exactly and without procrastination, you should manage to quit prior to the date that you set, as long as you didn't set an overly optimistic date.

If you managed to quit, congratulations! Share your story in the comments!

Don't let anybody shame you! Do the best that you can and you'll be a great mom. Love yourself, and quit for yourself and your baby.
Don't let anybody shame you! Do the best that you can and you'll be a great mom. Love yourself, and quit for yourself and your baby. | Source

Don't be too Hard on Yourself

If you slip, you slip. So what? It happens. Just jump right back up on the wagon and keep cutting out those cigarettes, or simply put the entire pack down again.

Most people need more than one go at quitting before they succeed. You'll have rough days. Five years later, I still do. But you'll make it through this if you follow the steps above and you reach out for support.

Best of luck quitting smoking!

© 2014 Becki Rizzuti

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