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The most effective way to protect the fetus is to quit smoking.


Smoking during pregnancy can cause serious health problems to an unborn child. Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to premature labor, breathing problems and fatal illness among infants.

An estimated 440,000 Americans die each year from diseases caused by smoking. Smoking is responsible for an estimated one in five U.S. deaths and costs the U.S. over $150 billion each year in health care costs and lost productivity.

Smoking during pregnancy is estimated to account for 20 to 30 percent of low-birth weight babies, up to 14 percent of preterm deliveries, and some 10 percent of all infant deaths. The odds of developing asthma are twice as high among children whose mothers smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day. Between 400,000 and 1 million asthmatic children have their condition worsened by exposure to secondhand smoke.

In 2001, 12 percent of mothers were reported to have smoked during pregnancy, a 35 percent decline from the 1990 level.

Smokers inhale nicotine and carbon monoxide, which reach the baby through the placenta and prevent the fetus from getting the nutrients and oxygen needed to grow. Secondhand smoke also adds a risk to pregnancy. Breast milk often contains whatever is in the woman's body. If the woman smokes, the baby ingests the nicotine in her breast milk.

Reducing frequency of smoking may not benefit the baby. A pregnant woman who reduces her smoking pattern or switches to lower tar cigarettes may inhale more deeply or take more puffs to get the same amount of nicotine as before.

The most effective way to protect the fetus is to quit smoking. If a woman plans to conceive a child in the near future, quitting is essential. A woman who quits within the first three or four months of pregnancy can lower the chances of her baby being born premature or with health problems related to smoking.

Pregnancy is a great time for a woman to quit. No matter how long she has been smoking, her body benefits from her quitting because it lessens her chances of developing future tobacco-related health problems, such as lung and heart disease, and cancer.