There are not many things in this world you can be sure of. In the words of Ben Franklin (shout out to all our fellow Penn alums), “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” And while we love you, Mr. American, we would like to add a third: cigarettes are bad for you! Despite the Marlboro Man’s best efforts, we all know nothing good can come out of lighting up. The litany of negatives when it comes to tobacco is so long, it couldn’t even fit on one page! Brain, lungs, heart, blood vessels, esophagus, stomach, hands, and feet are all victimized by the tar and tobacco filling that little white stick. While this may have been obvious to you, you may not have known how bad smoking is for your reproductive system.
Simply stated, smoking sucks for your reproductive system. Years of data have shown that smoking can lead to infertility and early menopause. In fact, women who smoke will go through menopause one to four years earlier than nonsmoking women. (Who wants hot flashes, headaches, and vaginal dryness before you need them?) And it seems that, the more you smoke, the more damage you do; with every puff you take, you are not only burning out your lungs but also your egg supply. Additionally, women who smoke are more likely to miscarry once pregnant. The chemicals in cigarettes can damage the DNA (genetic information) inside your egg and lead to a miscarriage. But it’s not only eggs that fizzle in the face of cigarettes; the fallopian tubes also sustain damage. Think of the tubes as tunnels. Their job (most of us have two!) is to transport the sperm to the egg and the fertilized embryo to the uterus. If blocked or damaged, the sperm or egg either never get together, or if they do, the embryo is more likely to get stuck on its way to the uterus. That’s called an ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy located outside of the uterus). Ectopics can be life threatening if not treated appropriately. How and why does this happen? Well, there are little hairs called cilia (we have them in our nose as well) that line the inside of our tubes. Imagine a car wash; think of the wipers that come beating down on the car when the wash first starts. That’s sort of like what the cilia look like, but rather than beating the dirt off your car, they are propelling the sperm to the egg and the embryo to the uterus. If they don’t work, you have a problem.
But get this. Even if you don’t smoke but your partner does, you are also in trouble. There are significant effects on a woman’s fertility from passive smoking (a.k.a. second-hand smoke). The effects of smoking on male infertility are less clear. Sperm function tests are poorer in smokers. There is not clear, conclusive evidence that men who smoke are more likely to be infertile, but given the impact it has on your female partner, guys, we urge you to put it out!
So let’s say you can’t quit and you find yourself pregnant and smoking. Then what? What impact is your habit having on your unborn child? If you have ever taken biology, you probably guessed it: not a very positive one! Babies born to women who smoked are at risk for growth restriction (stunted growth) inside the uterus, small birth weight, early/preterm delivery, stillbirth, and problems with the placenta.
But we get it. Despite all that, going cold turkey can be hard. Habits, no matter how bad, are hard to break. And because of all the “yuck” that is inhaled, it is actually not only okay but preferable to start nicotine replacement therapies (the patch, the gum, etc.) during pregnancy and when trying to conceive rather than continuing to smoke. Yes, they have their effects and are no prenatal vitamins, but they are way better than the tar and tobacco that you are inhaling. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it, butts are bad for your lungs, bad for your heart, bad for your brain, bad for your skin, bad for your ovaries, and unbelievably bad for your unborn baby. You will burn through your wallet, your lungs, and your eggs. So take it from us. Put out that cigarette, and never pick one up again!