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How nicotine patches still harm your pregnancy

Are pregnant smokers who want to quit or cut down better off using nicotine replacement gums, patches or lozenges?

Pregnant woman smoking

Pregnant and puffing?

Many women turn to nicotine replacement products when they find out they are pregnant as a way to kick their smoking habit — at least until their little one is born. In fact, up to 30 percent of doctors offer nicotine replacement products to pregnant women looking to cut down or quit.

Of course smoking during pregnancy isn’t safe for the baby, but are the nicotine replacement products harmless? Research differs when it comes to that question. Some say taking in nicotine can lower a fetus’ exposure to chemicals in cigarettes, while others say the nicotine itself can be harmful to the baby.

Studies haven’t shown that nicotine gums, lozenges, patches and other items can help women kick the habit. Last year, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 1,000 pregnant smokers found that the women who had nicotine replacement products were just as likely as those who did not use them during pregnancy to resume the habit after their babies were born. Women who had nicotine patches were less likely to smoke early on during their pregnancies.

Medical studies on animals have shown that nicotine can negatively impact a child’s brain development. Women who smoke are more likely to have offspring with learning disorders and other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Ted Slotkin, a professor of pharmacology at Duke University School of Medicine, believes that the brain can fix the damage from nicotine when the substance is not constantly in the body. He says that the fetus may be better off if pregnant smokers use a gum or lozenge because those options do not provide an ongoing dose of nicotine as a patch does.

Of course, the best option for the baby is for the mother not to smoke — or take nicotine — at all.

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