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30 Smoking While Pregnant Statistics & Facts: Key Insights

Discover the startling realities of smoking during pregnancy and how it affects mom and baby.

Pregnancy is a delicate time for both mother and baby. With many things you aren’t able to do anymore, it can feel limiting. But some things are quite dangerous, such as smoking while pregnant.

To understand more about this risk, we’ve compiled 30 smoking while pregnant statistics and facts to highlight the effects. We’ll cover long-term effects, the effects of light smoking, the effects of secondhand smoke, and data about mothers who quit smoking while pregnant.

Keep reading to learn more about the effects smoking can have on your body and baby. We’ll even finish with some top tips for how to quit smoking while pregnant.

30 Smoking While Pregnant Statistics and Facts

As of 2021, about 4.6% of mothers in the United States smoked at any time during their pregnancy (1). This accounts for over 168,000 women. We’ve compiled 30 official statistics about smoking while pregnant and the effects on the baby and mother. Let’s investigate!

Long-Term Effects of Smoking While Pregnant

Read through the startling long-term consequences of smoking while pregnant, including effects on the fetus and mother.

  1. Links to cleft lip: Smoking while pregnant can increase the risk of your baby being born with a cleft lip or cleft palate (2). Smoking increases the risk of a cleft birth defect by up to 50%. Cleft birth defects can lead to feeding challenges, hearing problems, language difficulties, and dental problems.
  2. Weaker lungs: When a pregnant mother smokes, her child is at risk for weaker lungs throughout their life (3). During fetal development, the baby can experience tissue damage in the lungs or simply have weaker lungs, leading to more health problems in the future.
  3. Brain development: Smoking while pregnant can affect a child’s development of the brain (4). Babies born to mothers who smoked or inhaled secondhand smoke sometimes have smaller brains or impacted brain functions.
  4. Obesity: Smoking while pregnant may impact a child’s weight in the future, leading to obesity and metabolic conditions. A study found that children born to mothers who smoked while pregnant were 50% more likely to be overweight later in life.
  5. Neurobehavioral outcomes: Smoking while pregnant is linked to neurobehavioral problems in children, such as ADHD, learning disabilities, and even nicotine addiction (5). It can also lead to anxiety, cognitive impairment, and hyperactivity.
  6. Type 2 diabetes: Smoking while pregnant is linked to disturbed glucose metabolism, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
  7. Low birth weight: About 20% of babies born to mothers who smoked while pregnant have low birth weight, which can lead to a range of health problems (6).
  8. Respiratory issues: Children born to mothers who smoke are more likely to have asthma, recurring chest infections, pneumonia, and bronchitis (7).

Light Smoking and E-Cigarettes During Pregnancy

What about occasional smoking and vaping during pregnancy — is it any safer? Let’s look at these eight insightful facts.

  1. No smoking is best: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) state that no smoking is safest while pregnant (8). Light smoking, defined as fewer than ten daily cigarettes, can still cause a range of health issues.
  2. Ectopic pregnancy: Smoking between one and four cigarettes daily can increase a woman’s chance of an ectopic pregnancy.
  3. Birth defects: Smoking between one and five daily cigarettes increases a baby’s chance of being born with a cleft defect.
  4. Preterm birth: Smoking one or two daily cigarettes during the first and second trimesters can increase a woman’s chance of going into early labor.
  5. Safety of e-cigarettes: E-cigarettes and vapes have fewer harmful chemicals than standard cigarettes. However, they still contain nicotine, which is not safe for pregnant women or unborn babies (9). Nicotine can cause health issues for pregnant women and can interfere with a baby’s brain and lungs.
  6. Percentage of women vaping: 4.9% of women vape during pregnancy (10). Nearly 50% of women who vaped during pregnancy thought it was less harmful than smoking.
  7. Vaping flavoring can be harmful: The flavorings and additives in e-cigarettes can be harmful during pregnancy. Flavoring in vapes isn’t approved for inhalation.
  8. Light smoking effects: While no smoking is best, light smoking is technically safer than heavy smoking (11). However, most of the risks associated with heavy smoking are still associated with light smoking.

Secondhand Smoke During Pregnancy

While quitting smoking is best, it’s also crucial that a woman reduces her intake of secondhand smoke during pregnancy. Let’s analyze data regarding exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnant months.

  1. Risk of stillbirth: Women exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy have a 23% increased chance of stillbirth (12).
  2. Congenital malformation: Women exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy have a 13% increased risk of congenital malformation (also known as birth defects).
  3. Low birth weight: Mothers exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy are more likely to deliver a baby of low birth weight (13). This is defined as less than five pounds and eight ounces.
  4. Chemicals in secondhand smoke: There are about 4,000 chemicals in secondhand smoke, many of which are linked to cancer (14).
  5. SIDS: Children born to parents who were exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy have an increased risk of SIDS (15). This risk increases depending on the number of people who smoked in the household and how close they were to the pregnant person.
  6. Weaker lungs: Babies who are born to mothers who were exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy have weaker lungs than other babies.
  7. Common exposures: Pregnant women who work in restaurants, bars, casinos, and hotels are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke (16).

Smoking Cessation During Pregnancy

It’s important to quit smoking during pregnancy, but that is often difficult. Below are seven interesting facts about quitting smoking during gestation.

  1. Quit as early as possible: It’s important to quit smoking as early as possible, but it’s also never too late. Even if you’re in your second or third trimester, try to quit smoking. There are many dangers of smoking around an infant, toddler, and child, so breaking the habit before the baby is born is essential.
  2. Percentage of women who quit smoking: Up to 45% of women who quit smoking cease the habit while pregnant (17). This makes pregnancy a leading motivation for women who quit smoking.
  3. Quitting during an unplanned pregnancy: Women who have an unplanned pregnancy are about 15% less likely to quit or reduce their smoking compared to women who planned their pregnancies.
  4. Health professionals and intervention: Even if a mother has quit smoking due to pregnancy, health professionals should enquire about any form of nicotine or tobacco consumption, including vaping, snus, nicotine patches, and nicotine gum, during pregnancy, as none is safe for the mother or baby (18).
  5. Positive quitting techniques: Motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy are two techniques that have great results for helping a woman quit smoking.
  6. Women who quit smoking: About 50-60% of women who cease smoking while pregnant will begin smoking again within the first year postpartum.
  7. Demographics of women who quit: Women who quit smoking during pregnancy were found to have better education, be more likely to be married, smoke fewer cigarettes daily before quitting, and be more motivated to quit (19). They were also more likely to have begun smoking at an older age (compared to those who didn’t quit smoking), have tried more often to quit and be less likely to have a partner who smoked.

What Happens if You Smoke During Pregnancy?

If you smoke while pregnant, you are more likely to experience certain problems for you or your baby, such as:

  • Miscarriage (20).
  • Preterm labor.
  • Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).
  • Weaker lungs for babies.
  • Unhealthily low birth weight (which can lead to death, infection, and breathing challenges).
  • Ectopic pregnancy.
  • Stillbirth.
  • Problems with the placenta.
  • Premature rupture of membranes.
  • Reduced oxygen supply for baby.
  • Slower growth for baby.
  • Increased risk of birth defects.
  • Poor development of baby’s brain.
  • Tissue damage in the baby’s brain and lungs (21).
  • Increased chance of cleft lip.
  • Abnormal bleeding during pregnancy and labor (22).
  • Risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

How To Quit Smoking While Pregnant

These 30 insightful smoking while pregnant statistics and facts prove how harmful smoking can be. The sooner you quit smoking during pregnancy, the better you and your baby’s health will be. The first thing you should do is talk to your healthcare provider about your smoking habits, your history with smoking, and any programs they have to help you quit smoking.

Here are some more useful tips for quitting smoking during pregnancy:

  • Make a quit plan: Making a quit plan can help you take actionable steps toward stopping smoking. Establish a start date, your reasons for quitting triggers that cause you to reach for a cigarette, alternative ways to deal with cravings, and any tools you need to help you quit.
  • Remove reminders: Get rid of cigarettes, vapes, matches, lighters, ashtrays, and other things that remind you of smoking.
  • Get a support system: Let your most helpful friends or family know that you want to quit smoking. Create a good support team around you to keep you accountable. You may even have a friend who has already been through it, and they can share inspirational personal stories with you.
  • Drink water: Water can help curb cravings, even more so than caffeine.
  • Manage your triggers: What triggers your smoking habit? Stress? Boredom? Manage your triggers and find other ways to deal with them.
  • Celebrate success: Reward yourself with your milestones, such as one week, one month, and three months. Go for a nice dinner, head to the movies, or cook your favorite meal to celebrate.
  • Quit together: If your partner or housemates smoke, too, try and quit smoking together. This is especially important when pregnant, as secondhand smoke can harm the baby, too.
  • Get counseling: Cognitive behavior therapy and counseling can be very beneficial when it comes to quitting smoking. Having someone in your corner is very important!
  • Keep trying: Quitting smoking isn’t going to be a linear journey. You may have to make many attempts, but keep going until the habit breaks.
  • Consider natural remedies: Acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and mindfulness can help you on your journey to quitting.


Is It Illegal to Smoke While Pregnant?

It’s not illegal to smoke while pregnant, but it is highly discouraged by medical professionals.

When Did We Learn That Smoking While Pregnant Is Bad?

In 1964, the Surgeon General report stated that women who smoked during gestation gave birth to babies with a lower birth weight (23). This information was reiterated, among other risks, in Surgeon General reports throughout the rest of the 20th-century.

During the 1970s, there was a substantial public health campaign to encourage pregnant women to stop smoking (24). However, only in the 1980s did this data become more common knowledge (25).

In Which Trimester Is Smoking Most Harmful?

Each trimester has its unique risks, making smoking harmful throughout pregnancy. In the first trimester, smoking can cause congenital disabilities (26). During the second trimester, smoking can cause preterm birth. Smoking during the third trimester can restrict a baby’s growth, leading to lower birth weights. It can also increase a baby’s chance of dermatitis and eczema.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a Scottish freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. She is a mum to a young boy, and believes that it truly takes a village. When she’s not parenting, writing about parenting, or working, she can be found reading, working on her novel, taking photos, playing board games or wandering through the countryside with her family.