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Your guide to salt and smoking in pregnancy

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Say no to salt

Have a look at this NHS video guide to salt.


Want to stop smoking?

A midwife explains why it's a good idea to stop smoking.

Salt Awareness Week runs from 11-17 March and No Smoking Day is held on 13 March. So it’s a good time to look at these two important issues and how they affect women’s health during pregnancy

The truth about salt

We all need a little salt – it helps our body to make use of nutrients and to control levels of fluid. But too much salt is linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke, as well as osteoporosis and kidney disease.

How much salt is enough?

  • It’s recommended that we eat no more than 6g of salt a day
    which is just one teaspoonful. This includes salt in ready-made foods and recipes, not just what you sprinkle on your plate.
  • In prepared foods, high salt content is more than 1.5g per 100g, while low salt content is 0.3 per 100g. 
  • Get into the habit of reading food labels; avoid foods tinned in brine, and use herbs and spices in your cooking rather than salt. 
  • Be aware that it’s in lots of foods you wouldn’t think of as being salty, such as bread and breakfast cereals, as well as ready meals.

While you won’t be adding any to your baby’s or toddler’s food, keeping food relatively salt-free when they’re older will benefit them for life – salty food is something we learn to like and, as with so many things, once you have a taste for it, it’s difficult to give up.

Salt and pregnancy

In the past salt was thought to be a cause of oedema (accumulation of fluid in the feet and legs). But this is actually a result of increased oestrogen production and having a greater volume of blood.

Salt has also been linked to pre-eclampsia, and in the past, mums-to-be were advised to cut salt out of their diets. However there has not been sufficient research to prove that cutting out salt helps to reduce pre-eclampsia.

This doesn’t mean you can go crazy with the salt. Doctors recommend that being pregnant makes no difference to the general guideline that you stick to no more than 6g a day.

Understanding salt cravings

Women often crave salt during pregnancy, and it’s possible that this is in some way caused by the increased volume of blood in your body. If you do get a strong desire for a savoury snack, don’t reach for salty crisps. Instead, try vegetable soup or pickles – they may satisfy your need for a salt fix while giving your body other essential nutrients, too.

Stopping smoking for good

Everybody knows that smoking during pregnancy carries serious health risks for your baby. But it’s also one of the hardest things to stop. On the other hand, thousands of people do manage to quit each year, so it’s not impossible – you just need the right support.

The sooner you stop smoking, the better – whether you’re pregnant or not. If you’ve tried before but failed, don’t lose heart – stopping smoking even in the first few weeks will still benefit you and your baby.

Talk to your GP about your options. Nicotine replacement therapy does expose your baby to the harmful effects of nicotine but reduces the risks associated with carbon monoxide, which can starve your baby of oxygen.

Second-hand smoke in pregnancy

If your partner or anyone else who lives with you smoke, their second-hand smoke can also affect you and your baby both before and after birth.

  • Second-hand smoke can contribute towards low birth weight and cot death.
  • Babies whose parents smoke are also more likely to be admitted to hospital for bronchitis and pneumonia before they’re a year old. 
  • More than 17,000 children under the age of five are admitted to hospital every year because of the effects of second-hand smoke.

Help to quit smoking

Order your free Quit Kit from the NHS.

The NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline (0800 169 9 169) is open 9am-8pm Monday to Friday, and 11am-5pm at weekends. You can also sign up to receive on-going advice and support at a time that suits you. Alternatively, Tesco provides a free stop smoking service from our pharmacies. This involves a one-to-one appointment with a trained member of the Tesco Pharmacy team, who will provide tailored advice about the best product you can use, based on your lifestyle and how frequently your smoke. You’ll also be invited back regularly to receive support in your attempt to quit. Find your nearest Tesco Pharmacy.