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Helping Expectant Moms Stop Smoking

Helping Expectant Moms Stop Smoking
Helping Expectant Moms Stop Smoking


Duke Health News Duke Health News

Every woman wants a healthy baby. But smoking during pregnancy dramatically increases the potential health dangers for a child: low birth-weight, respiratory problems, ear infections and increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), just to name a few.

Almost a quarter of American women smoke, and Kathryn Pollak, Ph.D., assistant research professor at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, says this means a large number smoke during pregnancy.

"About half of women, when they find out they're pregnant, quit smoking," says Pollak. "That means there's approximately 12 percent of women who continue to smoke while they're pregnant."

Pollak says behavioral interventions with this group have not proven very effective, and drug therapies, though potentially helpful, have either not been sufficiently tested or cause dangerous side effects. Drugs such as Zyban and Wellbutrin increase the likelihood of seizure, so they can't be used in pregnant women.

Pollak says some form of nicotine replacement may prove to be a viable therapy to help expectant moms kick the habit, but there's no good scientific data at this point. "This is a relatively understudied area," she says. "The effectiveness of nicotine replacement has only been studied by one group of Danish researchers. The problem with that study was that no one used the therapy. The subjects were supposed to use it for 12 weeks and they only used it for eight days, on average. There was a dramatic lack of compliance."

Family, friends and health providers can all play a part in helping a woman quit, says Pollak. "The partner plays an incredibly important role, both for her quitting in pregnancy and especially for her going back to smoking after she gives birth."

Pollak says pregnant women know smoking is harmful, and that being supportive, not judgmental, can help a woman who is having a tough time quitting.

"What makes me most nervous about this stigmatization is that a lot of people who can help are in the health field. But if a woman doesn't feel comfortable telling her OB provider that she's smoking, she's not going to get help. We have to work on treating this as a medical problem and stop being so judgmental and stigmatizing these women. A little empathy goes a long way."

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