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Linda Burke-Galloway, MD, author of The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy

How Long Does It Take to Quit Smoking?

I want to quit cigarettes before I get pregnant. How long does it take to really kick the smoking habit?

Anyone who’s ever had a smoking habit knows that quitting for good can be one of the most challenging obstacles they’ve ever faced. But it’s also one of the most rewarding, because by quitting you’re eliminating the single greatest source of preventable disease and death out there. That’s especially true if you’re thinking of starting a family, since about 20 to 30 percent of low birth weightin babies and 10 percent of all infant deaths can be blamed on smoking during pregnancy.

A smoker’s need to light up stems from nicotine, which has an addictive affect that keeps you craving cigarettes again and again. It only takes about three or four days for the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal (restlessness, irritability, moodiness) to peak, and after that, the symptoms will typically lessen and subside within three to four weeks.

Unfortunately, cravings still seem to remain for several months. Make sure you’re not pregnant before using nicotine aids, like a patch or gum — they can help gradually wean you off the drug, but they aren’t the best option during pregnancy. If you find out that you are already pregnant, other drug-free methods (group therapy or counseling, acupuncture, etc.) may be safer for your baby, especially during the first trimester, when her nervous system is still developing. That said, if it’s impossible for you to stop even if you are already pregnant, using a nicotine aid is certainly better than smoking itself. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to quit, since there’s no better time than now to start.


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