"I know smoking is bad for me, but it's tough to stop — even though I really want to get pregnant! What's the best way to quit smoking?"

Pat yourself on the back for trying to stop now — before you’re pregnant — instead of waiting to kick butt (cigarette butts, that is!) after you’ve conceived. You probably already know how bad the chemicals in cigarettes are for a developing fetus, but did you also know that they’re a big hurdle on the baby-making track?

Smoking ages your eggs (making it more difficult to conceive — and carry — a baby). Heavy smoking further damages your ovaries (along with your uterus) and affects hormone production, making it even harder for smokers to get pregnant. It also ups the chances that you'll have an ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage.

Luckily, within days of quitting, your body begins to repair the damage. In time, your fertility rate improves (plus you’ll be ensuring a smoke-free womb for your future baby-to-be).

To speed up your path to pregnancy, here are some tips to nix your need for nicotine:

How to quit smoking when trying to conceive

Talk to your doctor

Your doctor can help you come up with a plan of action, which may include prescribing a medication designed to help smokers quit. Just be sure to let your practitioner know that you’re thinking about getting pregnant (especially if you've already ditched the birth control).

Experts don’t yet know how prescriptions meds or nicotine replacement therapy affect the developing fetus, so you'll want to discuss the risks and possibly come up with an alternate plan.

Settle on a method for stopping

It’s tough to quit smoking. Nicotine is as addictive as any illegal drug, but it's available at plenty of stores (the better to tempt you to come back for more). Plus, the withdrawal symptoms (headaches, dizziness, crankiness, insomnia) can be bad enough to set you back.

The best approach for quitting depends on how much you smoke and your personality. If one way doesn’t work for you, try another (and another) until you hit on the method that leaves you smoke-free. Here are a few of the big ones:

  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). There’s a lot of evidence showing that people who try NRT are the most likely to quit and stay smoke-free. Whether you’re picking the patch, going for gum or using lozenges to lick your habit, NRTs can help ease withdrawal symptoms that make quitting so difficult. NRT reduces cravings by giving your body a dose of the nicotine it needs. It works best if you start it the first day you quit and follow dosing instructions and the recommended duration religiously.
  • Prescription meds. For heavy smokers, medications (like Chantix or Zyban) that directly affect brain chemistry may help control withdrawal symptoms. These drugs, however, have faced their share of controversy among the medical establishment over the years, so be sure to discuss the upsides and potential risks with your doctor. Usually, you start taking these medications a few weeks before the day you quit smoking. You can use the patch or chew nicotine gum while you’re on these meds.
  • Complementary and alternative therapies (CAM). Some CAM methods, like hypnosis or acupuncture, have helped people kick their habit, or at least have made withdrawal symptoms less severe. You can also look into relaxation techniques (deep breathing, meditation) that can help ease cravings. A bonus: Some of those natural treatments can boost your fertility.
  • Cutting back. Gradually reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day until it dwindles to zero can help ease the withdrawal symptoms that make quitting difficult. The problem? This can be one of the least effective ways to stop.
  • Cold turkey. If your willpower is the envy of all your friends, you can try throwing away that last pack and never looking back. You’ll have to have a pretty good plan to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms, though — which is why this method works best for social smokers (those who light up occasionally, especially if they’re out drinking with their friends). If this plan’s for you, stock up on gum, veggies, hard candy or something else to keep your mouth busy when the urge strikes (and stay away from places, people and things that trigger your smoking tendencies).

Wondering if electronic cigarettes are a better option than classic cigarettes? Pediatricians' groups warn against using them during pregnancy, since they also contain nicotine and because there's still so much that's unknown about the risks.

Set yourself up for success

Pick a day to quit smoking, and then purge your daily routine of anything cigarette-related. Toss the ashtrays, make alternate plans for your former smoke breaks (like a walk around the block), and tell family and friends — especially your smoking buddies — that you’re replacing smoking with something more baby(making)-friendly.

Before your first smoke-free day, prepare reminders to help you stick to your decision. Maybe it’s a list of reasons you’re quitting (starting with “the baby”!), pictures of nursery decorations, or a letter to your future child about your decision to kick the habit.

No matter how determined you are to quit smoking, those withdrawal symptoms can become gale-force winds that derail your best intentions for healthy baby-making. Try these strategies to help you conquer cravings and temptation:

  • Occupy your mouth with something sweet (but sugar-free, like sugarless gum) or crunchy (veggies come to mind). Or just get a straw and chew on that.
  • Take a walk — fresh air and activity can help distract and energize you to overcome a craving. Plus starting to exercise, especially if you can do it daily, will help your body adjust to its new, smoke-free state (and may help you conceive).
  • Call a friend or family member when the urge hits — the distraction and support can help. Looking for someone who can really empathize with your struggle? Find like-minded hopeful moms on What To Expect's Getting Pregnant message board.
  • Picture your baby. Whenever you feel like reaching for a cigarette (or are sick from withdrawal symptoms), close your eyes and picture that baby of your dreams cradled in your arms. A little bracelet or other reminder you wear might help too.
  • Don't play with fire (or smoke). Stay away from smokers and smoky places and even from stores where you can buy cigarettes at least for now. Send your partner if you have one to the store for you or to get gas. Spend time with nonsmoker friends, especially in the rocky early days of trying to quit. And if you associate a certain food, drink or activity with smoking cigarettes, steer clear of it (or them) for a while.
  • Set weekly goals and give yourself a small treat for meeting them. But take it one day at a time and be patient with (and kind to) yourself. If you don’t meet a goal or give into temptation, don’t beat yourself up. Just try again to quit smoking for good so you can turn your baby dreams into a reality.
Good luck and hang in there!
Heidi Murkoff