04 Oct 2022
Smoking has long been established to cause a myriad of health problems. From heart disease to lung cancer, its effects can take a while to build up and prove devastating. However, many people are less aware of how badly this habit can also affect fertility in both men and women.
Some couples that have been trying to get pregnant and realise they are struggling will find that the problem may stem from lifestyle habits like smoking. Besides affecting fertility in both men and women, it can also affect their chances of success if undergoing fertility treatments like IVF and the ability to carry a healthy foetus to full term. The chances of getting pregnant while a smoker is cut by almost half as compared to couples that do not smoke.
Fortunately, when you quit smoking, you can begin to improve your health condition and chances of getting pregnant. Here is how smoking can impact both genders.
Women that are smokers are more likely to suffer fertility problems like blockages in fallopian tubes and damage to the lining of the womb. They are also more likely to develop cervical cancer, which can alter the cervix and make it difficult to carry a pregnancy. Damage to the lining of the womb can also interfere with the safe implantation of a fertilised egg.
Studies have shown that there is a direct link between smoking and damage to eggs while in the ovaries. If a woman’s eggs are damaged, it can affect her ability to get pregnant and increase the risk of birth defects.
Smoking in women can also speed up the loss of eggs. This means that by the time the woman is trying to get pregnant, she may have fewer mature eggs to work with. Female smokers also tend to experience menopause at an earlier age as a consequence, often one to four years early. This can make trying to get pregnant more problematic for women that delay childbearing.
Men who smoke can also contribute to infertility within the home. Many that are serious smokers tend to have erectile dysfunction. This can interfere with attempts to naturally engage in sex and get pregnant.
The nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes that are absorbed into the bloodstream can also damage the DNA material in sperm. If this poor sperm then goes on to fertilise the egg, it can lead to health conditions in the baby. Conditions like leukaemia have been found to afflict children of smokers at a high rate.
As said, smoking can have adverse effects beyond fertility. Even if you manage to get pregnant, you do increase your chances of suffering pregnancy problems if you smoke. There is an increased risk of having an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth when the parents are smokers. There are also high rates of sudden infant death syndrome in households where there are smokers.
Smoking during pregnancy has also been found to increase the risk of birth defects. Many birth defects occur during the early stage of pregnancy. Not only can they affect the normal development of the foetus, but in female offspring, harm the development of their ovaries.
Many women do not even realise they are pregnant before they start to develop. Hence the reason women hoping to get pregnant should not wait for confirmation of a positive pregnancy test to stop smoking. Quitting should begin long before you even start trying to get pregnant.
Note that these risks remain high even if it is not the mother that smokes. Passive or second-hand smoke from a partner or other person in the household can damage your fertility and ability to carry a healthy pregnancy.
Whether it is just one partner or both that are smokers, the risk of harm to your fertility and pregnancy is obvious. This can apply even where you have another family member in the household that is a smoker as they can just as easily expose the couple to second-hand smoke. The problem starts with forming healthy sperm and eggs, before moving on to issues of conception and pregnancy.
Quitting as soon as possible, even before you try to start getting pregnant is best. It takes about three months for sperm to develop. Unlike women, men keep producing sperm constantly. Therefore, if they stop smoking at least three months before trying to conceive, there is a much better chance a healthy sperm will be the one to fertilise the egg.
For women, quitting early may not affect the quality of the eggs, but it may help correct disruptions to ovarian function, hormonal problems, and save more mature eggs that can be fertilised. Unfortunately, women have a finite supply of eggs that once they die off, do not regenerate or are replaced. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. Hence, the earlier a woman can focus on quitting, even with fertility problems, the better her chances of being able to retrieve more eggs that can go towards creating healthy embryos during IVF.
It is also worth noting that smoking can have other health effects that can compromise a woman’s ability to carry a pregnancy to term. Developing and having to treat conditions like cancer and heart disease can make trying to get pregnant and carry a baby more complicated. The general health of the parents is an important factor. A couple will find that conception, pregnancy and even caring for a baby will be physically easier if they are in good health.
The risk of birth defects, miscarriage, stillbirth and sudden infant death syndrome also makes it crucial to avoid exposing your child to smoke, both in utero and after birth. Women that also stop smoking before conception or within the first trimester of pregnancy can also reduce the risk of their child being born prematurely to a level similar to those that are not smokers. There is also a better chance of the baby being born at a healthy birth weight.
Conception, pregnancy and raising a child are a team effort. It is important to do your best to ensure good health for yourselves and your child. If you are unable to quit cold turkey, you can seek help from your doctor on how to quit smoking. Supporting one another and remaining committed to the cause will make for a healthier and happier family.