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A young mother who smoked 15 - 20 cigarettes a day during pregnancy claimed it helped to make her baby stronger.

Charlie Wilcox, 20, from Rainham, Kent, was warned that smoking while pregnant restricted the amount of oxygen available to her unborn baby. However, she believed that this would make her unborn baby's heart work harder.

Appearing on BBC3's Misbehaving Mums To Be, she said: It's making the baby use its heart on its own in the first place, so that when it comes out, its going to be able to do those things by itself.

"Where's the proof that it's so bad to smoke?

When pregnant, tests showed that the levels of carbon monoxide in Ms Wilcox's blood were six times higher than those considered safe.

Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke competes with oxygen in the blood, lowering the amount of oxygen available to the unborn baby's developing organs and tissues, one of the reasons why smokers are more likely to give birth prematurely or to babies of a low birth weight.

Ms Wilcox said she generally smoked around 15 to 20 cigarettes a day during the first six months of pregnancy, but cut back to around five a day for the remainder of the pregnancy.

When her daughter Lilly was born - ten days early - she weighed 6lb 2oz, more than 1lb less than the UK average.

Reasons to Kick the Habit while Pregnant

Babies born to smokers:
  • Are more likely to be born prematurely, and with a low birth weight
  • Are twice as likely to die from cot death
  • Are more likely to suffer from respiratory, and other infections
  • Have poorer lung function
  • Have organs that are smaller on average than babies born to non-smokers
  • Are more likely to become smokers themselves in later years
Comment: Says who?

Pregnant mothers who smoke in the later stages of pregnancy may also be at a higher risk of the placenta detaching from the womb, before the baby is born. This can cause a premature birth, oxygen deprivation to the baby or even result in the baby being stillborn.

Cutting back on the number of cigarettes smoked, as Ms Wilcox did, may seem to be a step in the right direction. However, some smokers who do this often start inhaling more deeply, so that the amount of carcinogens and poisons reaching the bloodstream is similar.