Can Doctors Tell If You Smoke Cigarettes While Pregnant? The Tell-Tale Signs

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Can Doctors Tell If You Smoke Cigarettes While Pregnant? The Tell-Tale Signs

Smoking is a harmful habit, and its effects are more severe when pregnant. The fact that maternal smoking increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) makes it essential for physicians to detect it early.

This can only be possible if expecting mothers are truthful about their smoking habits. However, some are apprehensive about revealing their smoking habit, wondering if doctors can tell if they still smoke during pregnancy anyway.

It is not difficult for doctors to tell if a pregnant woman smokes or has ever smoked, even if they do not verbalize it. There are various tell-tale signs they look out for, and they include:

  • Increased Carbon Monoxide Levels: Nicotine increases carbon monoxide levels in the bloodstream. Carbon Monoxide displaces oxygen and can lower its supply to the fetus. Doctors screen for carbon monoxide levels in blood tests and have a way of detecting the quantity. High levels of carbon monoxide indicate the pregnant woman has been exposed to either smoking directly or passive smoking.
  • Heartbeat and Fetal Movement Changes: Doctors can also determine the well-being of the fetus by measuring their heartbeat and movement. Smoking retards fetal growth, affecting the heart rate and movement. These changes are often a sign of fetal distress, which can easily be detected by physicians.
  • Skin Changes: Smoking causes skin changes, and it isn’t different for pregnant women who smoke. Carbon monoxide levels affect the oxygen supply to the skin, leading to reduced skin elasticity, facial wrinkling, and yellowing of the skin. Doctors can easily detect these changes and use them as a predictor of smoking habits.
  • Amniotic Fluid Changes: Smoking decreases amniotic fluid levels and increases the risk of premature rupture of membranes, preterm labor, and stillbirth. Doctors can measure the amniotic fluid levels during ultrasounds and deliver a verdict on the health of the fetus.
  • Smoker’s Breath: Smoking causes an unpleasant breath stench. The smell of cigarette smoke lingers on the mouth, hair, and clothes of smokers. Though it’s only visible if the doctor comes in contact with the mother, it’s still a tell-tale sign of smoking.

Smoke cigarettes while pregnant: Myths vs. Facts

The topic of smoking cigarettes while pregnant has many myths associated with serious health problems along with it. But let’s bring the facts into the light.

Myth 1: Some people believe that smoking fewer cigarettes or switching to e-cigarettes during pregnancy is okay.

Fact: There is no safe amount of smoking when you’re pregnant. Every single puff of tobacco smoke a cigarette can harm your baby (source).

Myth 2: Another common myth is that smoking doesn’t cause serious harm to the mother or the baby.

Fact: Smoking during pregnancy can increase the baby’s risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth. It’s also harmful to the mother, increasing her heart rate, and blood pressure.

Myth 3: Some people think that smoking won’t affect their chances of getting pregnant.

Fact: Smoking reduces a woman’s chances of getting pregnant (source).

The bottom line? It’s always best to quit smoking if you’re planning to get pregnant or are already pregnant. Your health and your baby’s health are worth it.

Will one cigarette show up in a urine test?

Yes, one cigarette can show up in a urine test. Nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, and its byproduct cotinine are usually detectable in urine for 3 to 4 days after you stop using tobacco products.

So, if you’ve smoked even one cigarette, it has the potential to be detected in a urine test (source).

What happens if you smoke while pregnant without knowing?

Smoking while pregnant, even without knowing like second-hand smoke, can raise several health risks for both the mother and the unborn child. The toxic chemicals in cigarettes can lead to complications such as premature birth, birth defects, and low birth weight. Moreover, when mothers smoke, it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Is smoking detected in ultrasound?

While an ultrasound can’t directly detect smoking, it can reveal potential health complications in your baby that may be associated with smoking.

These pregnancy complications can include low birth weight, smaller body size, or issues with the placenta. Seeing these signs might prompt your healthcare provider to ask about your lifestyle habits, including smoking.

Does smoking while pregnant affect the health of the baby?

Yes, smoking during pregnancy significantly affects the health of the baby. It increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, birth defects, and increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Secondhand smoke exposure can also lead to stillbirth and other complications. It’s crucial to quit smoking for the well-being of babies born both mother and child.

5 consequences if you smoke while you’re pregnant.

  1. Premature Birth: Smoking can cause your baby to be born too early, leading to health complications and long-term disabilities.
  2. Low Birth Weight: Babies of smoking mothers often weigh less than those born to non-smokers, which can lead to other health issues.
  3. Birth Defects: Smoking increases the risk of birth defects, including cleft lip or cleft palate.
  4. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): The risk of SIDS is higher in babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy.
  5. Impact on Brain Development: Smoking can affect your baby’s brain development, potentially leading to behavioral issues later in life.

Can autism be caused by smoking while pregnant?

Research indicates that smoking during pregnancy may increase the risk of having a child with autism.

However, it’s important to understand that autism is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Smoking might be one of many potential risk factors.

How dangerous is smoking cigarettes during pregnancy?

Smoking cigarettes during pregnancy is very dangerous. It can lead to severe health problems for both mother and baby, including miscarriage, premature labor, a low birth weight baby, brain and lung tissue damage in the baby, and even stillbirth.

The harmful chemicals in cigarettes, such as nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar, cross the placenta and can harm your baby’s development. Quitting smoking before or during pregnancy is the best way to ensure a healthy start for your baby.

How to get rid of smoking cigarettes during pregnancy?

Here are some strategies that can help you quit smoking during pregnancy:

  1. Set a Quit Date: Choose a date that works for you, ideally as soon as possible. The sooner you stop smoking, the better for both you and your baby.
  2. Seek Support: Talk to your healthcare provider about your decision to quit. They can provide resources and support to help you through this process.
  3. Use Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT): NRT can help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms. However, consult your healthcare professional before starting any medication.
  4. Address Triggers and Habits: Identify situations or emotions that make you want to smoke and find healthy ways to cope with them.
  5. Stay Active: Regular physical activity can help reduce cravings and improve your mood.
  6. Stay Positive: Quitting is a journey, not a destination. Celebrate every smoke-free day as a victory.


Pregnant women need to be honest about their smoking habits, as it affects the health of both mother and child. Even if doctors cannot see or smell the signs, blood tests and monitoring of the mother’s and the fetus’ health can reveal the effects of smoking.

However, if a pregnant woman quits smoking early, she can mitigate some of the consequences.

Finally, doctors must educate their patients on the importance of avoiding smoking for the health and well-being of their unborn child.

About the Author

Hey, I'm Jared and I'm a writer by heart. I call myself a Food-Conscious Journaling Coach, which is means I help foodies end emotional eating for a healthy, peaceful, and normal relationship with food. Just so happening journaling is both my heart and career!


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