Smoking mothers

THE DISCOVERY that women who stop smoking in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy can reduce the risk of having premature or underweight babies is crucially important information for expectant mothers. Protecting her baby is probably the strongest motivation a woman experiences. And if it serves to improve her own health as a result of giving up cigarettes during pregnancy, so much the better.

An international study conducted at University College Cork and five other universities has found that women who do not quit smoking within the first 15 weeks of pregnancy are three times more likely than non-smokers to give birth prematurely and twice as likely to have low-birth-weight babies. Those who stop smoking in the required time reduce their risk rate to the level of non-smokers. In addition, it was found that those pregnant women who stopped smoking did not become more stressed than those who continued.

Giving up smoking can be extremely difficult. In Ireland today, young women are more likely to smoke than young men. And they find it harder to quit. The situation is not helped by an assumption that giving up smoking leads to increased levels of stress. But now that this assumption has been discredited, the case for quitting is made even more compelling.

Smoking in pregnancy has long been linked to premature births and underweight babies, as well as to miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, stillbirth and neonatal death. In the wider community, tobacco-related illnesses are estimated to cost the health services about €1 billion per annum. More than 6,000 deaths a year are directly attributed to nicotine consumption.

A recent ban on the display of cigarettes and in-store tobacco advertising, along with an increase in excise duty, was introduced in an attempt to cut consumption and to protect children from insidious commercial promotions.

A similar, innovative approach was taken in relation to the control of cigarette vending machines. Minister for Health Mary Harney is to be commended for giving a lead to the rest of Europe in that regard.

But governments can only do so much. Ultimately, the choice falls to the citizen. That is why maternity care providers should advise women about the findings of this study at the earliest possible time in their pregnancy. If expectant mothers realise they can help themselves and their unborn children by quitting smoking – even for a limited period – many would surely take that option.


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