Heart attack, stroke, cancer, emphysema … these are but a few of the reasons to avoid smoking. Smoking has declined significantly since the 1960s when 40 percent of Americans smoked to 18 percent of Americans. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among ages 25 to 44, 22 percent of Americans are still smoking.
Those are the peak childbearing years. And smoking not only affects the length of time it takes to conceive for both men and women, it also causes problems with pregnancy and can affect the child’s health after he or she is born. If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, don’t wait to stop smoking. You should be off of tobacco at least one month and preferably three before you start trying to conceive.
THE EFFECT OF SMOKING ON FEMALE FERTILITY
Women who smoke are more likely to be infertile or take longer to conceive. Why? When you smoke, there are thousands of chemicals that enter your body, many of which are toxins. These toxins from cigarettes have been found in the egg follicles of a woman’s ovaries. Researchers have also found that women who smoke produce fewer eggs than women who don’t smoke.
Smoking may also damage a woman’s reproductive organs, and it can contribute to early menopause because of its effect on a woman’s estrogen. Studies have found that long-term or regular smokers are likely to experience menopause one to two years earlier than the average age of occurrence, which is 51.
Secondhand smoke is also a problem for female fertility, particularly if the woman lives with a smoker. One study published in the journal Human Reproduction looked at the effects of smoking and secondhand smoke on women undergoing fertility treatment. They found that per embryo transferred, 48 percent of the nonsmokers became pregnant, while only 19 percent of the smokers did and only 20 percent of the women living with a smoker did.
THE EFFECT OF SMOKING ON MALE FERTILITY
If smoking affects a woman’s eggs and ovulation, it only makes sense that it can affect a man’s sperm as well. Studies have found that heavy smokers produce up to 20 percent fewer sperm, and it may increase the number of irregularly shaped sperm. Abnormally shaped sperm have a harder time fertilizing an egg.
A recent study from the University of Colorado found that for couples in which both partners smoke — and the woman has polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) — there is an 80 percent decrease in the couple’s chance to conceive after fertility treatment.
Researchers have also found that sperm DNA can be damaged by the chemicals from cigarettes. This can contribute to problems with a pregnancy and affect a child’s future health.
SMOKING, PREGNANCY AND YOUR CHILD’S FUTURE HEALTH
The risk of problems during pregnancy is greatly increased if a woman smokes. First, she is more likely to have a miscarriage if she smokes or a premature or low birth weight baby. Smoking is also linked to placental abruption, a condition in which the placenta pulls away from the interior wall of the uterus prior to delivery, thus depriving the fetus of oxygen and causing heavy bleeding in the mother.
The effects of smoking don’t end once the child is born. Genetic abnormalities such as cleft lip or cleft palate are more common in babies born to smokers. The risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is increased when the mother smokes during pregnancy or the infant is exposed to secondhand smoke after birth. Scientists believe the chemicals in second hand smoke affect the brain in ways that interfere with the regulation of breathing.
The risks do not end as your child ages. Children of smokers get sick more often with illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia. They also have more ear infections and asthma attacks.
A recent study by the University of California, Davis, and the Berkeley nonprofit Public Health Institute found that women who smoke during pregnancy place the unborn child at increased risk of developing diabetes later in life. They found that women whose mothers smoked were two to three times more likely to develop diabetes as an adult. This finding was independent of the woman’s obesity or birth weight. There was an increased risk of diabetes among women whose fathers smoked as well, but the link was not as strong.
Bottom line: If you and your partner want to get pregnant and one or both of you are smokers, stop now. It can only help your chances of successfully conceiving — whether naturally or with fertility treatment — and your pregnancy, birth and child are much more likely to be healthy.