We all know that cigarette smoking is an unhealthy, even potentially lethal habit. If you’re a non-smoker, don’t start. If you do smoke, now’s a good time to stop or at least cut back. Most people are familiar with the serious risks of smoking in terms of lung cancer, heart disease and other health issues. Less well known is that smoking can have a negative impact on both male and female fertility. If either the man or woman smokes, this can compromise a couple’s attempts to conceive and deliver healthy babies. If you smoke and are planning to become pregnant, you should stop smoking at least two months before trying to conceive in order to improve your fertility chances. Complete, permanent smoking cessation is strongly recommended under all circumstances, especially if you are pregnant or trying to have a baby.
Smoking and Fertility in Women
There are a number of ways in which smoking has been shown to have a negative effect on fertility in women. Cigarette smoking may be harmful to a woman’s ovaries, where eggs are produced; this can result in a lower egg count or even destroyed or unviable eggs. Women who smoke can produce lower levels of estrogen, which could impact fertility and egg development. Smoking can also damage the fallopian tubes, inhibiting proper ovulation. And smoking can bring on early menopause, cutting short a woman’s fertility by several years. Some studies have found that it takes women who smoke notably longer to conceive than non-smoking women. This effect can be cumulative: the longer you’ve smoked, the greater the possible toll on fertility. Importantly, as soon as smoking is stopped, fertility can almost immediately improve, but there are no guarantees that the negative effects of smoking will be totally reversed. If a couple is trying to conceive via in vitro fertilization (IVF), it can take twice as long and require higher doses of fertility drugs if the woman is a smoker, if the process works at all. Smoking has also been connected to an increased risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. Smoking while pregnant also increases the possibility of birth defects. Women who smoke are more likely to give birth to premature babies, and even full-term babies born to smokers might suffer from low birth weight.
Smoking and Fertility in Men
While there has been less research on the impact of smoking and fertility in men, the studies that have been done come to the same conclusion as those done on women: smoking has a negative impact on fertility. One significant finding suggests that male smokers have a lower sperm count and lower sperm motility, which makes successful egg fertilization less likely. Other studies have proposed that smoking in men might result in their producing genetically abnormal sperm, which can result in diminished fertility. And even if a woman does become pregnant, potential genetic damage that may have been passed on through smoking-altered sperm could pose a risk to the pregnancy or developing baby. Men who smoke also are at increased risk for impotence and the inability to sustain an erection, with this sexual dysfunction then having an indirect effect on fertility. After all, if a man is unable to complete the sex act, natural conception is unlikely to take place. (It’s no fun for that all-important male ego, either – reason enough to quit or, better yet, never start smoking in the first place!) Also at issue with men who smoke is the potential effect of “secondhand smoke” exposure on their female partners, which is of concern in terms of both fertility and general health.