What You Need to Know About Smoking and Getting Pregnant

How Smoking Hurts Fertility

Young woman wearing sunglasses, smoking outdoors, close-up
Smoking is bad for you and bad for your baby. But quitting can reverse some of the fertility damage. Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

It's no secret that smoking is detrimental to your health, so it should be no surprise that smoking can affect your fertility. However, for many women, it apparently is surprising.

One survey of female hospital employees found that less than one in four knew that smoking could hurt their fertility or increase their risk of miscarriage.

Smoking has been linked to an increased risk for many cancers, heart disease, emphysema, and a number of other health problems.

The toxins contained in cigarettes take their toll not only on your lungs, but on your entire body's health, including your reproductive system.

Smoking habits may be responsible for fertility struggles in as many as 13% of couples.

How Much Smoking Is a Problem?

Because smoking can harm a child prenatally, it's a good idea to quit smoking before you even consider pregnancy.

That being said, if you decide not to quit smoking before you start trying to conceive, you may have trouble getting and staying pregnant in the first place.

How much do you need to smoke to have a measurable impact on your fertility?

According to many studies on the subject, 10 or more cigarettes per day will significantly harm your ability to conceive.

This doesn't mean smoking fewer cigarettes per day would not lead to lowered fertility. But it is clear that smoking 10 or more a day increases your risk of developing problems.

Other studies have shown that for each cigarette smoked per day, the longer it will take for the couple to get pregnant.

For example, a woman who smokes four cigarettes per day will on average take more time to get pregnant than a woman who smokes just two per day.

How Might Smoking Hurt Your Fertility?

Smoking is associated with the following fertility problems:

It's important to point out that not all of these issues are directly caused by smoking. They may be associated with each other.

For example, smoking probably doesn't directly cause blocked fallopian tubes. Women who smoke are more likely to engage in other unhealthy practices, including unsafe sex. Risky sexual behavior can increase the risk of pelvic infection and blocked fallopian tubes.

However, in the case of damage to the eggs in the ovaries, this is likely a direct cause of smoking.

Smoking May Shorten Your Biological Clock

Some studies have shown that smoking can cause not only problems with fertility while you're smoking, but lead to lowered fertility in the future.

Men produce new sperm throughout their lives, but women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. Once those eggs are damaged, there's no going back.

Smoking may decrease the total number of eggs a woman has in her ovaries and cause the ovaries to age prematurely.

Toxins in cigarettes may also lead to DNA damage to the ovarian follicles, where the eggs normally develop to maturity.

This premature aging of the ovaries and decrease in eggs may lead to earlier menopause, as much as four years earlier than normal.

More Smoking Leads to Longer Time to Conception

Research has also found that the more cigarettes a woman smokes a day, the longer she will take to get pregnant.

According to one study, which looked at just over 4,000 women, after three and a half months of trying to get pregnant, almost 60% of non-smokers had achieved pregnancy.

For women who smoked one to ten cigarettes a day, around 50% had achieved pregnancy.

For women who smoked over ten cigarettes per day, only 45% had achieved pregnancy after three and a half months.

If quitting completely does not seem to be in the cards for you, cutting back is still worth trying for.

What Should You Do if You're a Smoker and Want to Get Pregnant?

Don't feel that there's no turning back after years of cigarette smoking.

While smoking can lead to some long-term fertility damage, studies have also shown that fertility rates can improve after one year of quitting.

Some women may be tempted to keep smoking until they get pregnant. However, it's best for you and your future baby if you quit before you achieve pregnancy.

Quitting smoking before you even start trying to get pregnant may...

  • improve your chances of conceiving
  • be easier on your body
  • healthier for your baby
  • lower the risk of miscarrying the pregnancy

If your partner is also a smoker, consider quitting together.

There are many good reasons to do so. His secondhand smoke may lower your fertility and threaten your pregnancy, and some studies have found that smoking lowers male fertility as well. This is not to mention the health problems that can arise in babies and children who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Dropping the habit together will increase your chances of successfully quitting, too.

Sources:

Pfeifer S, Fritz M, Goldberg J, McClure RD, Thomas M, Widra E, Schattman G, Licht M, Collins J, Cedars M, Racowsky C, Davis O, Barnhart K, Gracia C, Catherino W, Rebar R, La Barbera A. “Smoking and infertility: a committee opinion.” Fertil Steril. 2012 Dec;98(6):1400-6. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.07.1146. Epub 2012 Sep 6.

Olek, Michael J., Gibbons, William E. "Optimizing natural fertility in couples planning pregnancy." UpToDate.

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