It's a well-known fact that smoking is harmful not only for smokers, but also anyone else around them. This is especially true for pregnant women, who are carrying a new life inside. Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have underweight, premature or stillborn babies and have a higher risk of cot death or sudden infant death syndrome. And of course, children who grow up with smokers are more likely to start smoking themselves. For these reasons, it's crucial that pregnant women are given the necessary support to quit smoking.
However, a recent study by researchers at the universities of Nottingham and York has shown that even when women do successfully quit smoking by the end of their pregnancy, many of them will resume smoking after the baby is born.
The study, published in the journal Addiction, analysed data from 571 women in 11 different trials who had quit smoking by the time they gave birth with the help of smoking cessation programs. Within six months post-birth, 43% of the women picked up smoking again. The researchers also found that most pregnant smokers do not stop smoking while they are pregnant; a wider analysis of data from 23 trials with over 9,000 women showed that 87% of pregnant women were still smoking at the time of birth.
Ultimately, the research concluded that very few women successfully quit while pregnant. Of those that do, almost half of them will start smoking again within 6 months which puts their child at risk of second-hand smoke and increases the chances that they will develop a smoking habit.
These results are worrying because they show that despite wide awareness of the dangers of smoking while pregnant and the significant public health resources invested in smoking cessation programs, pregnant smokers are still not quitting. And even the few that do quit are not achieving the maximum benefits of quitting, as they are likely to resume smoking shortly after.
The research indicates a need for greater support for pregnant smokers. The NHS Stop Smoking Services helped over 21,000 women in the UK in 2012/2013, almost half of whom achieved cessation at the time of birth, at a cost of £235 per quitter. These programs need to evaluate their efficacy and develop more long-term support methods for pregnant smokers, working to maintain cessation after birth.
This study highlights the larger systematic changes that need to occur within the medical community to provide better smoking cessation support for pregnant women. However, if you are pregnant and trying to quit smoking, there are things you can do to help yourself.
Pregnancy can be very stressful; that stress may only increase once the baby is born with the challenges of sleep deprivation, reduced maternity leave pay, breastfeeding, postpartum depression and more. Acknowledging that stress and being kind to yourself is the first step. Smoking is an addiction and quitting is hard, especially as a parent-to-be or new parent.
Once you've acknowledged the difficult situation, you can begin to take steps to change it. There is understandably a lot of stigma around smoking while pregnant which can act as a useful deterrent, but can also prevent pregnant smokers from disclosing their habit to their GPs or midwives. If they don't know, they can't help you and can't look for any warning signs that smoking may be harming your baby. It's important that you're honest and open with them about your smoking habit and your desire to quit.
Don't rely on willpower alone. You cannot take stop smoking medication while you are pregnant, but you can outsource some of the hard work to your friends and family. Set a quit date and tell everyone about it; they will be super supportive and hold you accountable.
If you are planning to get pregnant soon, don't wait to quit! Try a smoking cessation medication like Champix to help you quit now. It will be one of the best decisions you ever make for yourself and for your family.