Smoking: Let Go of Lighting Up

by Angie Best-Boss, Contributing Writer

Cancer sticks. Coffin nails. Gaspers. Black lungs. News flash – smoking is bad for you. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Did you also know it could be why you can’t get pregnant?

Smoking Infertility: For Women

Smoking causes hormonal changes that can lead to menstrual irregularities and even anovulation (menstrual cycles where ovulation fails to occur). It can damage your eggs. It raises risk of cancer, especially cervical cancer, which often requires surgical removal of ovaries. No ovaries makes it tricky to get pregnant.

How many cigs can you smoke before it causes problems. Nobody knows. But doctors do know if you continue to smoke, it makes it very likely it will take you longer to become pregnant than women who never smoked or stopped smoking before the year during which they attempted to conceive. And even if you do not smoke, if your partner does, you will suffer the same effects as if you smoked.

Smoking Infertility: For Men

Men who smoke have been shown to have abnormalities in sperm production. Both sperm quality and quantity are affected by cigarette smoking. On average, smoker showed a 75 percent decline in fertilizing capacity when compared to nonsmokers.

That’s a huge difference!

And if your partner does get pregnant, a greater number of birth defects have been found in the children of men who smoke heavily.

To make matters worse, smoking significantly increases the risk of erectile dysfunction. Chronic smokers who smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day had a 60 percent higher risk of the problem, compared to men who never smoked — even when factors like age and blood pressure were controlled for.

Smoking Pregnant

It isn’t like you’re out of the woods once you get that plus sign on the pregnancy test. The stakes get even higher then. Smoking pregnant can boost the risk of miscarriage, and can negatively effect fetal development, such as slowing the baby’s growth rate. In addition, writes John Martin for Fertility Neighborhood, smoking pregnant can cause blood vessels in the uterus and placenta to narrow, and can negatively affect the blood pressure and heart rate of both the mother and developing fetus.

“Smoking pregnant … causes considerable health damage to the fetus and to the infant during the initial growth phase,” said Knut-Olaf Haustein, MD, with the Institute for Nicotine Research and Smoking. “A smoking mother puts her child at considerable risk, not only of higher incidence of [miscarriage], premature ablatio placentae [premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall prior to delivery], and reduced weight at birth, but also of deformities.”

Infertility Treatment

Some clinics will not treat smokers. Clinics want their success rates to be good and they want their patients to succeed. They know the effect of smoking on fertility has been found to be so pronounced that it was equivalent of adding more than 10 years to a woman’s reproductive age.

“Our study found that the effect of smoking more than one cigarette a day for a year reduced women’s chances of having a live birth through IVF by 28% – that’s the same percentage disadvantage that occurs between a 20-year-old woman and a 30-year-old woman,” says Didi Braat, professor of gynecology at the University Medical Centre in Nijmegen. In other words, smoking may actually be causing the infertility problems these women were experiencing.

“Other studies have shown that the negative effects of smoking on fertility are reversible, but we have no idea how long it takes after quitting smoking for fertility levels to resume non-smoker levels.” The best time to quit? Right now.

To Learn More about Smoking Pregnant

American Cancer Society (ACS)
The ACS is a nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, the ACS has state divisions and more than 3,400 local offices.
(800) ACS-2345

Smoking Addiction

American Lung Association
Non-profit organization offers a free online smoking cessation program, called Freedom From Smoking.

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Shiverick KT, Salafia C. Cigarette smoking and pregnancy I: ovarian, uterine, and placental effects. Placenta 1999 May;20(4):265-72.

Sinko I, Morocz M, Zadori J, Kokavszky K, Rasko I. Effect of cigarette smoking on DNA damage of human cumulus cells analyzed by comet assay. Reprod Toxicol 2005 May-Jun;20(1):65-71.

Economides D, Braithwaite J. Smoking, pregnancy and the fetus. JR Soc Health 1994 Aug;114(4):198-201. Haustein KO. Cigarette smoking, nicotine and pregnancy. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther 1999 Sep;37(9):417-27.

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