Jennifer had two reasons to celebrate when her first child was born. One: She had a beautiful baby boy. Two: She finally felt free to start smoking again. “I lit up the day I got home from the hospital,” she says. “I was like ‘Yahoo! Give me a cigarette.'”
When the Michigan college student became pregnant with her second child, she once again quit smoking for the sake of her baby. But this time, she quit for good. “I wanted to be around for my kids,” she says. It’s been more than a year since she came home with her second baby, and she still hasn’t had her celebratory smoke. “When you give up any bad habit, you just have to take it day by day and hour by hour,” she says.
Giving up smoking during pregnancy is hard enough. But for many women, an even greater struggle starts after the baby is born. According to a 2004 report in the Journal of the American Board of Family Practice, between 70 and 85 percent of women who kick the habit while pregnant light up soon after giving birth. Some planned all along to start smoking again. But others truly wanted to give up smoking, for their own sake as well as their baby’s.
If you quit smoking during pregnancy, congratulations! You’ve given your baby a huge gift. Now it’s time to make that gift permanent. Not only will you be protecting your baby from secondhand smoke, you’ll lower your own risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and other deadly illnesses. In short, you’ll both be able to breathe a lot easier.
Why many new moms light up again – and why they shouldn’t
You’ve already made it through the worst of the cravings, and nicotine is long gone from your system, but staying away from cigarettes won’t be easy. “The postpartum period is a very vulnerable time,” says Michelle Levine, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who studies the forces that drive new mothers to smoke. For one thing, she says, those months can pack a lot of stress – the kind of stress that leaves you looking for something to calm your nerves. And if you start longing for your pre-baby body, you may be looking for a weight-loss aid. Many women see cigarettes as a quick fix for both problems, Levine says.
More than anything else, you may feel your motivation slip away as soon as your baby is born, says Pamela Pletsch, an associate professor of nursing at the University of North Carolina who develops programs to help pregnant women and new mothers give up cigarettes. “When a woman is pregnant, she sees that not smoking is the only way to protect her baby,” she says. “Once the baby is out of her body, she sees other options,” like smoking in a different room or next to an open window.
But smoking with a baby in the house shouldn’t really be an option at all. Babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke are twice as likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and they’re also especially vulnerable to asthma, pneumonia, allergies, and ear infections. Secondhand smoke can also slow the growth of a baby’s lungs, potentially raising the risk of lung disease in adulthood. And some studies suggest that children who’ve been exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to have trouble learning and to develop behavior problems like hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder.
And no matter how careful you are with your cigarettes, smoke will find your baby. It quickly spreads throughout your home even if you light up in another room. In fact, cigarettes will contaminate your baby’s environment even if you only smoke outside (because of the nicotine and other toxins that seep from your skin and your clothes). Researchers at San Diego State University tested for traces of secondhand smoke in houses where smokers tried to protect babies by smoking in different rooms or outdoors. As reported in Tobacco Control in 2004, the “protection” failed. The levels of nicotine and other chemicals throughout their houses – including the babies’ rooms – were about five to seven times higher than in houses of nonsmokers. And urine tests showed that the babies in these families had been exposed to eight times as much secondhand smoke. An open window or a fancy filtering system can help clear the air, but your baby will still share in your habit.
If you’re breastfeeding, every cigarette you smoke will contaminate your milk. Nicotine in breast milk can make your baby agitated and restless, and may cause his heart to beat faster. If you’re a heavy smoker, your nursing baby may suffer from diarrhea and vomiting. Heavy smoking will also decrease your milk production, making it harder for you to keep your baby well fed. (Note: Most experts agree that it’s best to keep breastfeeding even if you can’t quit smoking. According to La Leche League, if you smoke fewer than 20 cigarettes a day, the risks to your nursing baby are small.)
There’s another person who’s bound to suffer if you continue to smoke: You. You’ll need plenty of stamina to keep up with your little one, and a hacking smoker’s cough won’t help. The picture only gets worse if you look a few years down the road. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, smoking is the number one cause of heart disease in women under 50. If you quit smoking now, you can cut your risk in half in one year. Smoking is also the leading cause – in fact, it’s practically the only cause – of lung cancer, which kills more American women every year than any other cancer, including breast cancer.
Six ways to keep cigarettes at bay
You want to keep your baby safe, and you want to stay healthy. Those two goals leave you with one choice: Quit smoking for good. Here are some tried-and-true strategies for staying smoke-free:
- Put your baby in a stroller and take a quick walk around the neighborhood. The activity, fresh air, and change of scenery will do you good, and if you’re looking for a way to lose weight, exercise and a good diet will be far healthier – and far more effective – than smoking.
- Find a good counselor or therapist to talk to. If professional private counseling is too pricey for your budget, try group counseling or the American Cancer Society’s free, one-on-one smoking cessation hotline – it’s available at (877) 937-7848, 24 hours a day. Note: Many insurance companies will cover part or most of the cost of counseling as part of smoking cessation treatments.
- Develop a network of friends and family members to help you stay away from cigarettes.
- Anticipate cravings and have a plan for dealing with them. Call a friend, take a walk, chew some gum – anything that doesn’t involve a cigarette. Each craving will only last a few minutes, so your plan doesn’t have to be too elaborate.
- Avoid places or situations that make you want to smoke. If you used to light up with friends after work, find another way to unwind. If you always had a cigarette with your morning coffee, switch to tea instead.
- If you have trouble quitting on your own, ask your doctor for help. Nicotine gums, sprays, or patches may take the edge off your cravings and help you resist the urge to smoke. Note: If you breastfeed and use these products, small amounts of nicotine will enter your breast milk and could affect your baby.
Some people have symptoms of depression while quitting. If you’re feeling down, talk to your doctor about that, too.
For Jennifer, the mom who quit for good after her second baby, resisting powerful cravings has paid off. “I’m breathing easier, and I can exercise without feeling like I’m going to die,” she says. She’s not the only one in the house who’s breathing easy these days: When her habit finally came to an end, her two kids got a new start.