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How smoking affects male and female fertility

How smoking affects male and female fertility

The adverse effects of smoking on health are well-known. Most people are aware of the fact that smoking can cause cancer, lung diseases, heart problems, diabetes, and multiple other illnesses. The effects of smoking on fertility and the health of babies, however, are not always fully understood.

The harmful chemicals in cigarettes, such as nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and carbon monoxide, negatively affect the whole body, and this includes the reproductive system. Although some people may think that smoking only has an impact on female fertility, male fertility is affected just as much. If you’re smoking while trying to conceive, remember that there’s a direct correlation between the risk of infertility and the number of cigarettes you smoke a day. Here’s some more information on smoking and pregnancy.

 male fertility

Effects of Smoking on Male Fertility

While roughly 50% of infertility cases are due to female fertility problems, male fertility issues account for approximately 30% of cases. In the other 20% of cases, a combination of male and female factors makes it difficult for a couple to conceive.

So, how does smoking affect fertility in males? Well, firstly, smoking can cause erectile dysfunction in men, which obviously makes falling pregnant more challenging. According to an article in the Journal of Andrology, there is a significant correlation between the number of cigarettes a man smokes a day and the risk of erectile dysfunction. Men who, for instance, smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day are far more at risk than those who smoke under 10 cigarettes.

In addition, the heavy metals in cigarettes, such as cadmium and lead, have been shown to adversely affect semen quality and cause DNA damage. There are multiple other ways of how smoking affects sperm. Apart from lowering the sperm count, smoking also affects the sperm’s normal swimming patterns. What's more, smoking decreases the sperm’s ability to fertilize eggs.

Effects of Smoking on Female Fertility

Smoking also affects female fertility in multiple ways. Apart from making it more difficult to fall pregnant, smoking can cause complications during pregnancy. Smoking introduces toxic substances to a woman’s ovaries, which can kill eggs. Since eggs can’t be regenerated, women who smoke tend to enter menopause a few years earlier than their non-smoking counterparts.

Women who have fewer eggs obviously have a reduced chance of falling pregnant. However, even if the toxins in cigarettes don’t kill eggs, they diminish their quality, which increases the risk that fertilised eggs will develop abnormally. The risk of miscarriage also increases, since apart from damaging eggs, smoking can also cause changes in the uterine lining.

One of the most concerning possible effects of smoking is a complication known as ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilized egg lies outside of the uterus, such as in the fallopian tubes. If the egg keeps growing in the fallopian tubes, for instance, the tubes could burst. Regardless of where the egg implants outside of the uterus, the pregnancy can’t continue.

It’s important to note that smoking also reduces the success rate of fertility treatments, such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). According to studies, women who smoke are 50% less likely to become pregnant and stay pregnant during their treatment cycle than non-smokers.

giving up smoking during pregnancy

Can Smoking Continue To Affect My Baby?

Even if smokers manage to fall pregnant and deliver their babies, the unfortunate truth is that babies can also be negatively affected after birth. Since smoking damages the genetic material in eggs and sperm, the babies of smokers have a bigger chance of suffering from defects. Apart from heart and cardiovascular defects, babies of smokers may suffer from facial deformations, gastrointestinal defects, limb defects, skull deformation, and many other conditions.

Women who smoke are also more likely to give birth to babies with genetic diseases, such as Down syndrome. Even when smokers give birth to babies who don’t suffer from any serious defects, they often have lower birth weights or may arrive prematurely. In addition, babies of smokers are more at risk of developing medical problems later on in life. Possible health issues include diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and asthma.

The Benefits of Stopping Smoking

If you’re a smoker, don’t despair. There is good news. If you stop smoking, you can drastically improve your chances of falling pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby. Although some of the damage from smoking, such as eggs that have died, can’t be undone, the good news is that a lot of the damage can actually be reversed.

The longer you abstain from smoking, the lower the risk of pregnancy complications. Since sperm takes about three months to mature, males should try to quit at least three months before they try to make a baby. Doing so will ensure that their sperm is healthier and the chances of fertilising an egg will be much greater.

When a woman quits, the lining of her womb improves, which increases her chances of falling pregnant. Stopping smoking also reduces the risk of having a miscarriage, giving birth prematurely, or giving birth to a baby with defects. Quitting will also be very beneficial to those who are going through fertility treatments.

mum and baby


Could Second-Hand Smoke Influence My Chances of Conceiving?

If you’re wondering whether your husband smoking while trying to conceive is an issue, the answer is yes. Even if you don’t smoke, breathing in the second-hand smoke of your partner could pose similar risks to if you inhaled your own cigarette smoke.

Can I Cut Down Instead of Stopping?

Although smoking less is beneficial, you should understand that smoking is bad for fertility and pregnancy, even if you only smoke a few cigarettes a day. Unfortunately, smoking only one to five cigarettes a day increases the risk for ectopic pregnancy and you are still at risk of giving birth prematurely. Low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes don’t really help. They are still very harmful to a baby.

Can I Smoke E-Cigarettes?

Since e-cigarettes don't burn tobacco, they impart less harmful toxins than cigarettes do. They also don't produce carbon monoxide. For these reasons, they are considered safer. However, the studies on e-cigarettes are not conclusive. You and your baby will be healthier if you completely quit.