If you’re thinking of having a baby, there might be things you will have to give up to make sure you’re in optimum shape for a healthy conception. And as you probably guessed, smoking is one of the factors you need to look out for. Smoking has been shown to have a huge impact on both female and male fertility, affecting your chances of becoming pregnant.
According to data published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), 19% of women in England are smoking. The figures suggest that the gradual decrease in smoking, seen following the smoking ban in 2007, is slowly stabilising. The benefits of a smoking ban have been reported in a recent Belgian study that found a significant decline in preterm births.
There has been extensive research into the effects of cigarette smoking on female fertility. The studies have shown that women who smoke are more likely to be infertile. Furthermore, women who do get pregnant usually have to wait much longer to conceive that non-smokers.
So what exactly is the relationship between smoking and fertility? Let’s look at each factor separately.
Damage to the ovaries
The ovaries can accumulate smoke compounds creating a toxic environment that affects the maturation of eggs and leads to a lower egg count. Some research even suggests that smoking can cause damage to genetic material in growing eggs which can then be passed onto offspring and increase their risk of developing certain diseases like cancer.
Altered oestrogen production
Smoking seems to interfere with oestrogen production, which might suppress ovulation. Also, reduced oestrogen level combined with reduced blood flow seen in women who smoke can cause vaginal dryness, leading to painful sex.
Impaired embryo transport and implantation
Studies have found a higher rate of ectopic pregnancies among women who smoke, which suggests that smoking has a negative effect on the transport of a fertilised egg through the Fallopian tubes. Other research also implies that some of the smoke compounds play a role in poor implantation rates.
The studies found that smoking leads to an earlier onset of menopause, bringing it forward by several years. Researchers speculate that toxic compounds found in cigarette smoke trigger the genetic signal that causes damage to eggs and shuts down ovaries.
Possible role in the development of cervical cancer
Smoke compounds have been found in cervical mucus, which suggests that it contributes to the development of cervical cancer. This can progress into intrusive surgical procedures that lead to infertility.
Higher risk of IVF failure
And finally, smoking has been associated with lower IVF success rates. The issues include a lower number of follicles (cells that contain immature eggs) and retrieved eggs, poor fertilisation rates and an increased risk of miscarriage.
Don’t underestimate second hand smoke
Research has shown that second hand smoke can be as bad as actual smoking when it comes to fertility. The reported outcomes in passive smokers included increased rates of fertility problems and a higher risk of miscarriage.
The damage caused by cigarette smoke seems to be related to the duration of smoking, the number of cigarettes, as well as individual sensitivities. It’s never too late to give up, especially if you’re trying to conceive. Contact the NHS Stop Smoking or Smokefree for support and advice.
Augood C, Duckitt K and Templeton AA (1998) Smoking and female infertility: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Hum Reprod. 13(6):1532-9.
Dechanet et al (2011) Effects of cigarette smoking on reproduction. Hum Reprod Update. 17(1):76-95.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre (2012) Statistics on Smoking: England, 2012 (Accessed August 2013).
McCann et al (1992) Nicotine and cotinine in the cervical mucus of smokers, passive smokers, and nonsmokers. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1(2):125-9.