Smoking can still damage your baby’s health even after they are born. It can be hard to stop smoking permanently, but it is never too late to try. On this page, you can find information about how staying smoke-free will protect you and your baby, and where you can find the support you need to quit for good.
Why do some parents smoke?
We know there are many reasons why some new parents still smoke or have started again after having a baby, including the following:
- quitting may have been temporary during the pregnancy
- stress, which can be a trigger for current or ex-smokers
- going back to other old habits (doing things you used to associate with smoking, such as going to the pub)
- living with someone who smokes
- wanting to lose weight.
It’s understandable that these things can make it difficult to stop smoking. But it can help to think about what triggers you to smoke, so you can think about other ways to cope in these situations. You’ll find lots of information on this page about where to go for support to quit smoking.
Why is it so important to stay smoke-free after having a baby?
Secondhand smoke is the smoke your baby breathes in when someone smokes near them. This is especially harmful for babies and children because they have less well-developed airways, lungs and immune systems.
Not smoking around your baby will reduce the risk of:
- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- chest infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- coughs and colds
- ear infections
- less frequent and less severe asthma (if they have asthma).
As well as the risks of secondhand smoke, children who grow up in homes where parents smoke are around 3 times more likely to smoke than children living in non-smoking households.
How can smoking affect my health?
Most people know about the health risks of smoking, which include an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and heart attacks. But smoking can also affect the health of new parents in specific ways.
For example, if you gave birth and had a perineal tear, smoking can affect how well the wound heals. Find out more about recovering from a perineal tear.
Smoking can also increase any incontinence problems because coughing puts strain on your pelvic floor muscles. Find out more about your body after birth.
Being a new parent can be very stressful. Up to 1 in 5 women develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth, including anxiety. Dads and partners can be affected too. It’s a common belief that smoking helps you relax. But smoking actually increases anxiety and tension. If you stop smoking, it will help relieve stress, anxiety and depression.
It doesn’t worry everyone, but some people may have negative feelings about their post-baby bodies, particularly their weight, which is sometimes why new parents smoke. But try to focus on how you feel right now, rather than how you look. Your health and your newborn baby’s health are far more important.
Can smoking affect my fertility?
If you want to have another baby, the best thing to do is not to smoke as this can affect your fertility (the ability to have babies). Even if you’ve had a baby before, women who smoke are twice as likely to be infertile as non-smokers.If you stop smoking, it won’t take you any longer to get pregnant than women who have never smoked.
Smoking can also affect a man’s fertility.
Find out more about smoking and getting pregnant.
How does smoking affect breastfeeding?
It is important to be aware that the harmful chemicals that are in cigarettes can get into your breastmilk. This can affect your baby’s sleep and increase the chance of respiratory (lung) conditions.
But even if you're finding it hard to quit smoking, it's important not to stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding will still protect your baby from infections and has long-term health benefits that last right into adulthood.
If you are smoking, try to avoid smoking just before or during breastfeeding. Your baby will inhale your smoke.
How do I stay smoke free after pregnancy?
We know it is hard for some new parents to stay smoke free after having a baby, especially if other members of the household smoke.
You can talk to your health visitor if you are struggling. Health visitors are there to support all families who have a new baby, so they won’t judge you. They can offer you support and advice on local stop smoking service along with advice.
It might help to know that you're up to 4 times more likely to stop smoking successfully with NHS support. Your midwife, health visitor or GP can give your details of your local NHS stop smoking service. You can also visit the Smokefree website or call the NHS smoking helpline on 0300 123 1044 for free information.
There are treatments you can use to stop smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
NRT is available free on prescription while you're pregnant and for 1 year after your baby is born. It comes in a variety of formats, including patches, gum, lozenges, nasal spray and inhalators.
The other treatments available, Varenicline (Champix) and Bupropion (Zyban) are not recommended if you are breastfeeding.
If you are breastfeeding, tell your GP or NHS stop smoking advisor so they can give you the best advice.
Here are more tips to help you quit smoking for good:
- Cut down to quit. There is no ‘safe’ amount of cigarettes you can smoke a day, but not everyone is ready to stop straight away. You could try picking a quit date and reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke every day, every week and fortnight until your quit date.
- Make a date to make your home and car smoke free.
- Think ahead to times when it might be difficult (for example, if you arrange a date with a friend who smokes) and plan what you will do when they have a cigarette. For example, you could stay inside a café and look at pictures of your baby to remind yourself why you are going smoke free.
- Tell your family and friends about your plans to go smoke free and ask for their support.
- Remind your friends and family that your home is a smoke-free zone. Ask all visitors to smoke outside.
- Remove all ashtrays or lighters from your home.
- Clean all surfaces, walls, carpets and furnishings to get rid of tobacco smoke and smell.
- Create a space outside where you can smoke. Have a chair outside to make yourself more comfortable. Leave an umbrella by the door for those rainy days.
Try to stay positive and remind yourself why you have made the effort to keep your home smoke free.
What can I do if I am still struggling to stop smoking?
Opening the windows or smoking in another room is not enough to protect your baby from secondhand smoke. Over 80% of cigarette smoke is invisible and stays in the air for several hours after a cigarette is put out.
Try to smoke outside, at least 7 steps away from the house to stop smoke drifting inside.
If you or your partner smoke, do not share a bed with your baby (co-sleep). This can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), especially if you smoke, recently drank alcohol or you are taking medication that makes you sleep more heavily.
It is illegal to smoke in a private vehicle (such as your car) if there is another person under 18 with you.
Could I use an e-cigarette (vape) instead?
There is currently no evidence of secondhand exposure to e-cigarette vapour causes harm. Any risks are likely to be extremely low. If using e-cigarettes indoors helps you or other members of your household, it is a far safer option than smoking cigarettes indoors.
But remember that babies and children have less well-developed airways, lungs and immune systems. The best way to make sure they are safe from secondhand smoke is to vape outside your home or car.
It’s also important to take steps to prevent children from accidentally swallowing e-cigarette liquid or small parts of devices. Just like with medicines and cleaning products, e-cigarettes and e-liquids should be kept out of the reach of children.
To reduce the risk of fire, use the correct charger and do not leave your e-cigarette charging unattended or overnight. E-cigarettes should be charged away from babies and toddlers.
Can I use an e-cigarette (vape) if I’m breastfeeding?
Based on the available evidence on the safety of e-cigarettes, there is no reason to believe that using an e-cigarette would be harmful if you are breastfeeding. If vaping is helping you to quit smoking and stay smokefree, you should carry on with it, including while breastfeeding.
More information and support
There is plenty of friendly, professional support available online and by phone to help you stop smoking.
This website offers advice, information and support, along with a free Quit Kit and other resources. There are also success stories to boost your resolve and help you keep on track. As well as visiting the website you can call the free Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044.
QUIT is a charity that also has professional advisers, along with tips, tools and ideas to help you quit smoking. You can also call their free helpline on 0800 00 22 00.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
ASH is a charity that works to raise awareness about tobacco use and campaigns for ways to eliminate the damage caused by smoking. You can find information about different aspects of smoking and quitting, along with links to more stop smoking websites.
SmokeFree Baby is a smartphone app to help you give up smoking completely or substantially reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke during pregnancy. It has been developed by a team of experts at University College London, and it is available for free on both iPhones and Androids.