Smoking when pregnant – is it ever ok?

I tweeted something earlier this year about smoking when pregnant. The tweet both garnered support and ruffled some tobacco-stained feathers. It was inflammatory and accusing, as you’d expect, but it kicked off a debate and that’s always a good thing. It opened my mind, to an extent, but I don’t think my opinion has changed on the matter.

Smoking when pregnant

This is the tweet in question:

Moments before writing this out and sending it into the digital battlefield that is the internet, I’d walked past a heavily pregnant woman in Liverpool City Centre. She was smoking and wearing pyjamas.


It was 16:05. I was disgusted by it, I’ve always been of the mindset “Do what you want to your own body, but the baby has no choice”. I think that’s fair, right? Smoking is a shit choice, but it’s an adult’s choice to make. Babies, though, I guarantee they don’t enjoy it. They don’t deserve the risks, either. And there are plenty of risks.

Part of me wanted to shout “DO YOU NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING TO THAT BABY?”, but she does know. Of course she knows. There isn’t anyone out there smoking that doesn’t know the risks (I’m excluding far off tribes and undiscovered Amazonians here).

Motives of smoking when pregnant

Motive is the crux of it. It’s what it all boils down to and determines whether I was right to instantly judge that mum-to-be. It’s also what I never considered at the time.

There are two types of pregnant women that smoke:

  1. Those that do it because they don’t care, or they put their own needs before that of the unborn baby’s. Before this tweet, these were the only type as far as I was concerned. I didn’t imagine a situation where it would be better for the baby should the woman continue smoking when pregnant.
  2. Those that do it because they have no choice. They know it’s wrong, and perhaps they feel a tremendous guilt because of it. But maybe, just maybe, it’s the one thing stopping them from tipping over the edge with another mental condition.

My tweet invited a lot of criticism, and it was obvious that those defending it smoked when pregnant and wanted to appear to be from the second category. Do I think they were? No, not all of them, but it’s an easy excuse isn’t it? It’s a powerful excuse, one that you can’t really attack “just in case” it happens to be true.

I once saw a pregnant woman stood outside a local bar – glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She was there every single day. I think she’s in category 1 and I genuinely don’t think that child has the best start in life. Mentioning this woman on Twitter was met with “you don’t know what’s going on inside of her though”. I do mate – there’s a baby craving a pack of pork scratchings and already thinking of excuses of why he can’t pay maintenance to his third ex-wife.

Is smoking when pregnant EVER acceptable?

A friend tweeted me back later that evening with his wife’s experience with this. She smoked through her pregnancy. I respect this guy, he’s someone I’ve looked up to in the blogging world since I started. I offered the point of view that perhaps she should have sought other nicotine sources. Here is his reply (in two parts):

So there’s that. Can I relate to that? No – but that doesn’t meant it’s not valid. I’m not entirely sold on the smoking being an action to make someone feel they’re in control, there are probably better avenues to go down. But that’s all I can say…”probably”, because I don’t know enough, and I’ve not been through this. For those of us without those issues, we just can’t put ourselves in that position.

There were other responses, for example:

This is a pretty extreme example, I understand the logic but I don’t think this translates to the real world in terms of frequency.

I knew a girl who was pregnant – this is going back about 15 or so years now. She was in the bar I worked at (before I was sacked for getting drunk, that’s another story). She was drinking and smoking – we were acquaintances so I asked her why she smoked during pregnancy. Her response was “the stress of trying to quit is worse for the baby”. She was bothered that I’d asked, and she reeled off a stock response and shrugged it off.

She was drunk, though, so perhaps not in the best position to give a sensible answer.

Official stance

The NHS claims the following:

It can be difficult to stop smoking, but it’s never too late to quit. Every cigarette you smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, so smoking when pregnant harms your unborn baby. Cigarettes can restrict the essential oxygen supply to your baby. As a result, their heart has to beat harder every time you smoke.

Geek out: Most people know that haemoglobin is what carries oxygen around the body. Oxygen sticks to it (we say haemoglobin has a high affinity for it). Haemoglobin has a higher affinity to carbon monoxide (CO) than oxygen. That’s why CO is so dangerous, it suffocates us. A baby’s haemoglobin has a higher affinity to oxygen than the mother, so it can take oxygen from her blood. So if there’s CO in the mother’s blood, the baby is in trouble. This is also why pregnant women may survive CO poisoning – the baby acts as a magnet for it, sadly.

The NHS advice sounds conclusive to me.

So should you be smoking when pregnant?

No. You shouldn’t. But then you knew that – and you’re not going to take my advice to stop because I’m sure you’ve heard it off other people closer to you. People will judge you for it, whether they’re right in doing so or not. If you’re doing it because you’re a category 2, then as controversial as it sounds, I wouldn’t do it walking through a city centre while wearing pyjamas. Perhaps it’s something you should do in private.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

33 thoughts on “Smoking when pregnant – is it ever ok?

  1. I’ve never smoked pregnant or not so to be fair, I probably can’t understand that addiction. My sister in law smoked throughout her pregnancy though. She tried to stop but it was so stressful that her midwife told her to cut down rather than stop which she did. She knew it was bad and felt all of the guilt but just couldn’t stop altogether. It’s something I could never get my head around personally.

  2. I was a smoker. I gave up when I peed on a stick and a line appeared. I judge Mothers who don’t and I don’t give a shit if that makes them feel bad. It’s nothing personal, if I thought it ok to force feed my developing child a shit ton of chemicals despite knowing the risks then I would expect to get a reaction too.

    If you do it and you get judged you feel guilty because you know its a shitty thing to do, not because someone judged you.

    When I found out I was pregnant with my first child I was 18, living with a drug dealing abusive shit of a bloke. I smoked at least a pack of cigs a day and took amphetamines all day long and smoked weed. I had no money (I am talking searching the back of the sofa for pennies to buy bread) and no prospects. Because of my situation (there is back story) and the drugs I was also heavily depressed.

    The moment that line appeared though my mindset shifted. I knew I had something else more important than myself and so the fags went in the bin, I didn’t touch anything I shouldn’t from that moment on. It was hard. It meant completely changing my life really but it was also the easiest choice in the world.

    I know it’s not all black and white but I honestly don’t see how anyone could choose something other than the health of their unborn child as their top priority.

    jaysus that was long.
    Tasha – Mummy&Moose recently posted…Picturing Hetty Feather At The Foundling MuseumMy Profile

    1. Jesus, that was a tough read! I’m sorry you went through that mate, but that alone puts some to shame that only dabbled with an attempt at quitting. Well done you!

      1. I know right! I never even got a badge or a certificate or nuffink. My son was born without Asthma or any kind of Nicotine withdrawal though so I suppose that was worth it…

        I barely think about how I used to exist but I know my son saved me from myself. Thank you x

        To any Mum reading this who is finding it hard to quit, put everything else aside and understand that it really comes down to 1 thing. Each time you feel like putting a cigarette in your mouth, don’t. If I can do it then anyone can.

  3. I like to think im a non judgmental parent. Having said that, i hate seeing a pregnant women with a fag in her mouth. Before i had kids a smoked 20 a day. As soon asI found out i was pregnant I stopped. Its not that i didnt fancy them or it wasnt hard, i just felt like it wasnt even an option. I started again after my twins were born but after my daughter i gave up completly. 1ts been 10 years now and i feel so much better for it.
    Anyways…..nearly £10 a pack now!! Sod that!

  4. I can’t see any excuse being valid in all honesty. You may be addicted to it but does that mean you should be excused for damaging your unborn child?
    What is more important to you, smoking or your baby?

    1. Everyone judges, how we are warrants judgement, it’s the foundations of social interaction after all.

      And yes, definitely food for thought – though I struggle to understand the mindset. We would though, having not been in that position,

  5. I don’t agree with smoking whilst pregnant, it’s something I’d never, ever do, but the 2 examples people tweeted out to you do make you stop and think for a minute.

    I’m guilty of judging smoking mothers too though. When I was in the maternity ward, I stepped outside to get some fresh air and there were heavily pregnant women smoking outside the hospital. I was seriously shocked!

    1. Tony’s example yes – the other example sounds more like an blanket excuse for all smoking pregnant people.

      I hate seeing it outside hospitals, something in the back of my mind always things they should be refused treatment!

  6. I was 18, a heavy smoker, in an abusive relationship. As soon as I found out I was pregnant I tried to stop, along with trying to get away from my ex, but it wasn’t that easy. My ex was extremely violent & almost killed me, so along with the police, courts, domestic violence unit, social services & housing I ended up relapsing & smoked more than I knew I should due to the stress & depression I was going through. In some instances it’s not just a simple choice as whether to smoke or not
    Toni | This Mama Blogs recently posted…SLIMMING WORLD MEAL PLAN | 14TH AUGUST 2017My Profile

  7. For the most part I don’t agree with smoking during pregnancy but I don’t need a man to tell me it isn’t okay. You have never, nor will you ever, carry a child for nine months and have to give up everything. What if that child wasn’t planned, or was the result of a rape. It isn’t down to you to tell women how to be pregnant. It’s hard work, I was in an abusive relationship, I struggled with depression and I found it hard to get out of bed every day. Whilst I gave up for the most part, I had four or five through the whole of my pregnancy. When it’s that or I kill myself, because that’s where I was, I think having a cigarette is okay.

    1. So you’re saying you had two choices, have a cigarette or kill yourself?

      I’m sorry about your situation, but the post has nothing to do with me being a man, I can have an opinion on the poisoning of a baby regardless. Whilst I agree that people in that situation need help, I disagree that me being a man prevents me from having an opinion on it.

  8. “If you’re doing it because you’re a category 2, then as controversial as it sounds, I wouldn’t do it walking through a city centre while wearing pyjamas. Perhaps it’s something you should do in private.”

    Really? Really? How pragmatic of you. I mean, keeping something a secret is always the healthy option, right? Hiding away, afraid of how society will judge us. Don’t you think women have this judgemental sh*t in their faces every single day?

    For your information: smoking when pregnant CAN harm the baby, but doesn’t always. Cigarettes are known to be at least as addictive than heroin. They are physically addictive. I.e. you experience the withdrawal through physical (and mental) symptoms. You clearly aren’t a smoker, so … sigh. Once more, a man who thinks he knows what’s morally right for others because he saw it once or twice. This is old, old sh*t, goes back to when Eve ate the apple and became simultaneously the victim AND the perpetrator. No. Way. Out. Not for women.

    I know lots of mothers, some of whom were smokers, some of whom stopped while pregnant, some of whom were non-smokers in the first place. Those smokers weren’t suicidal, and none of their children, to my well-informed knowledge, are damaged. I’ll defend their right to smoke a few cigarettes over the 9 months they take while they adjust their lives, give everything up that they are able to, and deal the best they can. Some smoke tobacco, which has fewer chemicals (it’s the additional chemicals added to ordinary cigarettes, btw, that makes them so much more addictive). Some smoke fewer cigarettes. I’m assuming both these two fit into your magnanimous category two. I mean, if you HAVE to loosely and inaccurately categorise the smoking section of the population who have children, in this way.

    But now, here’s the crux; the real question of value. What is it about your life that enables you to raise yourself above those who have harder lives, tougher choices, and more to give up? (btw, that’s women per se, not necessarily women who are under privileged–as opposed to men). What is that? I always want to know that about people who judge so hard.

    Truth is, no-one was born yet that was better than someone else. No-one was born without the potential for the worst and most damaging habits given the right circumstances. Smoking when pregnant isn’t just excusable if a woman was raped or is mentally unwell. Nobody is excusing it. Not least the person doing it as she wonders if her child will be deformed or damaged as a result. It isn’t about excusing it. It’s about backing off, remembering that women are continually oppressed BECAUSE they reproduce; BECAUSE they are the only people in our f*cked up species that have the power to continue the species.

    You simply aren’t in a position to judge in the first place. Feel free to comment; no-one really cares. They might reply to you here, but your opinion won’t change anyone else’s action, because we are all living our own version of hell, undisturbed by the opinions of those who will never know our struggle, and you clearly aren’t big enough to change the big picture. You can only continue the oppression by slagging off women who don’t fit your view on what ‘a woman should be’. Only thinking of the children, of course. Sure. Well f*ck you, sir.

    1. That’s a hell of a lot of daddy issues to fit into one reply lady.

      I knew someone would roll their sleeves up and see this as an opportunity to take offence on behalf of all women out there – and I knew the tone would be exactly how you set it out. You can sugar coat everything all you want, you can apply the situational logic of the few to the many that do it and assume they’re a victim, but the contrary is equally as likely.

      I could have written a review on Tots TV and you’d probably spend a few hours picking it apart and feeling euphoria when you’d finally figured out a way to be offended by it.

      If you willingly pump poison into a developing baby’s body, you can’t expect the world to look on you favourably. No matter how angry you get on the internet.

      Thanks for reading though, appreciated.

    2. Hi Sakina,

      So, I’m a woman. I have more mental health issues than a shrink would know what to do with and I’m an ex smoker.
      When I say ex smoker I mean I smoked full time from early teens right through until the day I got a positive pregnancy test. That day, 11th April 2013, was the last time I smoked a cigarette until after my son was safely delivered into the world.

      We’re all entitled to our opinions, as Mark has exercised his right. This isn’t a feminist argument. This is a moral argument. A health argument. And an argument everyone has an opinion on.

      If you are going to smoke during pregnancy, a pregnancy that you have full awareness of then I’m afraid you are a selfish idiot and I am not going to apologise for holding that view. I know how hard it is to quit smoking as I’ve done it twice but if I can do it; someone who has addiction issues then anyone can. This ain’t about being born better than someone else. You can dress it up however you want to, to ensure you win this debate but the bottom line is; smoking during pregnancy is vile, dangerous and selfish. End of!

  9. So, not bothering to deal with any of the arguments? I’m disappointed 🙂 Seriously, you post something like this and then whine about the tone and efficacy of one of your two dissenting commenters’ arguments to beat the mean lady who bothered to spend a few minutes pointing out the issues with your judgemental attitude? 😀

    LOL ‘daddy issues’. I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds like a jibe. 🙂 At least you tried.

    The oppression of females is well documented, and if you had bothered to look, you wouldn’t need me to educate you. Try as a starter pack, if you will. Not all written by women, either, so you’ll surely be able to find something you can run with. It’s okay, we all make mistakes. If we write, we lay those mistakes out for every one else to see and judge. It’s a nightmare. I get it.

    To be fair, I wouldn’t be busy pumping poison into the body of a bairn, either, if I could help it, and I absolutely agree that smoking while pregnant is risky for a person’s baby, but I’m not passing judgement on others’ decisions.

    Word to the wise: just because we’re oppressed doesn’t mean we’re victims. I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention victims in my entire comment.

    And finally, re your reply to the commenter before me, “the post has nothing to do with me being a man”. This statement, all by itself, shows how much you have to learn. Perhaps you should also look up bias and all the insidious ways in which it manifests without us realising.

    Bright blessings!

    1. This is hideously laced. I’m telling you quite openly that the post isn’t an attack on women, and you’re just glossing over that.

      How would you feel if a woman had have written this? Because some have commented in agreement with a lot stronger wording than I. Would you take it more seriously, or would you dismiss it because it didn’t fit the feminist view as you interpret it?

      I’m not conditioned by society to view women how you implied above, in fact none of that entered my mind – it didn’t need to. If men were able to gestate I’d feel exactly the same way and then you’d have no argument. As it happens we can’t, sorry about that!

  10. I was going to craft a reply responding to each of Sakina’s point, but I can’t be bothered – you can’t win an argument with a fool. So I shall just say this:

    Sakina does not speak for the majority of women or for the feminist movement. In fact, this kind of drivel serves only to harm our cause, because it dilutes the true issues with a warped notion that all women’s lives are miserable. I feel judged, because I actually love my life…

    For the record, I too believe that if a woman places her own need to smoke – for whatever reason – above the needs of her unborn child, then she should not flaunt it. It’s offensive. So yes, it should be done in private. I don’t want to be around smokers anyway –
    especially not with my new baby! (Ex smoker here, btw.)

    Ps. Sakina, you may find my recent blog post of interest! (Why Does Society Have A Chip on Its Shoulder, should you be inclined to search for it.)

  11. As soon I found out I was pregnant 5 years ago I stopped smoking. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make and it would have been extremely selfish if I had Carried on. My daughter was born 3 months premature and whilst she was fighting for her life in the neonatal unit I came outside for some air. I was stood a few feet away from a women in a hospital gown, heavily pregnant smoking I had to stop myself from 1. Slapping her 2. Shouting at her. 3. Dragging her upstairs to that nicu to show her all the other parents who desperately wanted thier child to live whilst other people are a few feet away putting thier child in danger.

    It’s disgusting and anybody smoking, drinking or taking drugs whilst pregnant should be ashamed of themselves and quite frankly it should be treated as abuse. You are abusing your child, your baby doesn’t want to smoke you know full well the cons to smoking. It’s endangering your own child!

    1. That’s horrible – I’m not sure how I’d have reacted if I’d seen mothers taking actions that would put their babies in the same position mine was in.


  12. I cheerily smoked 655 Cuban cigars a week while pregnant and when my child exited my being it had the strong moustache of a salsa champion. I did this because I’m a true fighter in the cause against female oppression.

    Oh wait, those two things have no correlation, right? My statement makes no sense. Hmmm. I’ll have to find another way to tenuously link a scientifically proven health risk to an unborn child to my screeching need to cry womanly war against the male of the species.

    Brb, just off to stock up on badly-written internet propaganda.

  13. Sakina:
    The point that began this is this: if it’s illegal to smoke in a car then how is it ok to smoke in pregnancy as that’s more harmful? Of course there are some that have mental health problems and other issues and they are genuine reasons to continue smoking. It’s not the majority though. Personally i think we need to be less judgemental as we don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives, but that also applies to your responses as you were also hideously offensive, thus losing any moral argument you may have been trying to make.

    So can a woman say ‘Sorry i got caught smoking in the car officer, I have mental health issues or abuse issues so I need to smoke around my children’?

    And if so, you have no problem with men who have the same issues smoking around their kids while in the car or while their partners are pregnant?

    What about alcohol and drugs? Cigarettes are drugs so you’ll have no issue with stressed or damaged adults taking these around their kids too?

    By your own argument that men have no right to police women’s babies, what about men who have a problem with women poisoning their babies since that unborn child is their child also? Are they not being irresponsible by turning a bling eye to abuse of their child?

    I actually don’t totally agree with Mark and agree more with where you are coming from but your reply was so ‘shoe-horned offense’ it’s unbelievable. Just an excuse to be misandric. Also hypocrtical because if it was the other way around i’d put money on you being be the first to call for a chain smoking father to be strung up by the balls. But that’s hypocrisy of the brownskirts for you.

  14. As a hamster I take offense to all this ‘man v women’ bickering.

    “You shouldn’t smoke..”
    “You can’t tell me what to do..”

    What about me??
    What if I want to smoke?!

    They don’t make cigarettes in my size. Those things a pissing massive!

    ..I’ve forgotten if I was trying to make a point or not..

  15. As a hamster I take offense to all this ‘man v women’ bickering.

    “You shouldn’t smoke..”
    “You can’t tell me what to do..”

    What about me??
    What if I want to smoke?!

    They don’t make cigarettes in my size. Those things a pissing massive!

    ..I’ve forgotten if I was trying to make a point or not..

  16. As a hamster I take offense to all this ‘man v women’ bickering.

    “You shouldn’t smoke..”
    “You can’t tell me what to do..”

    What about me??
    What if I want to smoke?!

    They don’t make cigarettes in my size. Those things a pissing massive!

    ..I’ve forgotten if I was trying to make a point or not..

  17. I started smoking during high school and smoked until the age of 35. I wanted a baby and I always said that when it’s time I will give up on cigarettes. I got pregnant few months later. During pregnancy I did not touch alcohol (although I do fancy a drink) and cigarettes never from the day I quit. I think it’s prioritising as well. A life just forming in your tummy should tell you that that is the most important thing and for God sake try and be healthy at lest for those nine months.

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