Smoking and Teen Pregnancy

Teen pregnancy and teen smoking are two grave threats to teen health. Yet statistics show high rates of smoking among pregnant teens. Parents can help prevent smoking and teen pregnancy. If teens are pregnant and smoke, they need to get help and quit, for their own health and their baby’s.

Teens are the group most likely to smoke during pregnancy. Though the numbers of teens who smoke has been declining in recent years, the number of pregnant teens who smoke tobacco has remained high.

  • About 12 percent of teens in 12th grade smoke
  • Around 17 percent of pregnant teens smoke
  • About 10 percent of pregnant women in their 20s or 30s smoke
  • According to research done by the state of California, the smoking rate among pregnant teens has been increasing in recent years, rather than declining with the rates of smoking among other teens

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of which may be harmful to pregnant women and their babies. Smoking other drugs or using other forms of tobacco is also especially dangerous during pregnancy.

Smoking during pregnancy can cause dangerous complications for the baby and the mother, such as increased risk for:

  • Stillbirth, when the baby dies before being born
  • Premature birth, or being born too early, which can result in health problems and disabilities
  • Low birth weight, another risk factor for health problems and death in babies
  • SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, when a baby dies without any apparent reason
  • Dangerous pregnancy complications, such as problems with the placenta, which can cause death for the mother and the baby.
  • Having a baby that is hard to soothe and goes through withdrawals

Many of these dangers are also present for pregnant teens who are exposed to secondhand smoke, meaning that they are around people who smoke, such as in their home, in a car, or hanging out with friends. Pregnant teens should avoid smoking and being around people who smoke whenever possible.

Though smoking at any time during pregnancy is dangerous, if a teen is able to quit during pregnancy, she reduces many of the risks associated with smoking. Pregnant teens who already smoke and can't quit may need to talk to their doctor about ways to help them quit smoking, which may include joining a support group, getting counseling, or other treatments approved by their doctor.

Because pregnant teens who quit during pregnancy are at risk of smoking again after the baby is born, teens should focus on starting healthier habits so they stay smoke free. Smoking around babies and children increases their risk for breathing problems and other health problems, and endangers the health of the mother as well.

Pregnant teens may smoke because they feel stress from the pressures of pregnancy and motherhood. These teens can learn healthier ways of managing stress, such as:

  • Doctor-approved exercise
  • Meditation
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Spending time on activities they enjoy, like art, music, or talking to friends
  • Joining a support group for pregnant teens

Parents and others can help teens who are at risk for smoking during pregnancy, or who are pregnant and smoke, in several ways:

  • Talk to children early about the dangers and side effects of smoking, like addiction, cancer risks, bad breath and teeth, and the high cost of cigarettes to discourage smoking. They should also talk to teens about the risks of teen sexual activity, including pregnancy and STDs, and encourage teens to choose abstinence or safe sex. Even if teens are already smoking, sexually active, or pregnant, it's not too late to talk to teens about their concerns to encourage wiser choices in the future.
  • If a teen is pregnant, get early medical care to help reduce the risks associated with teen pregnancy and to help teens develop good health habits for pregnancy.
  • Encourage teens who smoke to break the patterns that encourage smoking, like hanging out with friends who smoke.
  • Parents and friends should avoid smoking around pregnant teens, and should set a good example by trying to quit themselves.


March of Dimes, Fact Sheets, "Teenage Pregnancy" and "Smoking During Pregnancy" [online]
Nemours, TeensHealth, "Having a Healthy Pregnancy" [online]
California Department of Education, "Teen Pregnancy and Parenting in California" [online]
Marrecca Fiore, Fox News, "Teen Pregnancy Rate Hits 15-year High" [online]
MayoClinic, Tween and Teen Health, "Teen Smoking: 10 Ways to Help Teen Stay Smoke Free" [online]

Related Article: Teen Pregnancy Health Risks >>