A new government report has found that over 7 percent of female smokers still continue smoking while pregnant, with a strong prevalence in younger and less-educated populations.
The dangers of smoking are well-known, but that doesn’t seem to stop a decent-sized population of pregnant women from smoking while pregnant. The report from the National Center for Health Statistics found that younger and less educated women were more likely to continue smoking, which highlights a need for further outreach and education in vulnerable communities.
According to Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y, “Since smoking exposes both the woman and the fetus to serious health risks, more intense smoking cessation counseling is recommended for this population of smokers,”
The report also found some racial disparities, with almost 17 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives choosing to continue smoking while pregnant. Additionally, there are significant differences in the populations of women who continue smoking while pregnant across different states, with West Virginia taking the lead at a whopping 25 percent of female smokers who continue the habit during their pregnancy.
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“This study indicates that women of certain age groups, ethnicity and educational background are more likely to smoke during pregnancy…Anti-tobacco educational media campaigns targeting these populations may help bring more awareness to the importance of quitting during pregnancy and remaining quit after delivery….When possible, engaging women to quit preconception is ideal,” said Folan.
In order to best address the problem of women smoking while pregnant, targeted outreach is necessary – particularly targeting the younger audience. As mentioned above, having women quit smoking before they actually get pregnant is the best way to solve this issue, as it can be difficult to suddenly kick the addiction once a child is conceived – even with how important it is to the health of the fetus.
As maternal age increased, the prevalence of smoking while pregnant decreased – with just 2% of those 45 and older still continuing to puff. As mentioned above, education also played a major role in reducing these occurrences, with only 7.9 percent of women with some college education continuing smoking while pregnant. Strangely enough, women with a high school diploma continued the habit slightly more than women who never finished high school, although the difference was only slight.
“Health care providers, including obstetricians, midwives and pediatricians, should stress the importance of quitting and offer nonjudgmental counseling, support, follow-up and relapse prevention strategies to pregnant women,” Folan said. “a health care provider’s sensitivity and empathy during coaching and counseling will increase the likelihood that a pregnant woman will disclose her smoking behavior and be receptive to cessation advice.”
While outreach is important for addressing the issue of women smoking while pregnant, it’s important to do so in a compassionate and understanding manner. Understanding that the addiction is hard to address for many who are already undergoing major changes is key, and a firm but kind education and encouragement may do a lot to fix the problem.
Also important is making sure that women have adequate access to prenatal care. By increasing the accessibility of healthcare professionals to these young and less-educated populations, there’s a stronger likelihood that these at-risk women can receive the help they need to stop smoking while pregnant. Only through increasing education and staving off cigarette smoking before pregnancy will the healthcare community be able to make a significant impact on reducing these troubling statistics.
For more information, check out the full results of the study on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.