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Smoking during pregnancy can cause long-term problems for babies; stop smoking now

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune health reporter

Smoking during pregnancy affects how the baby takes in oxygen, how the baby develops and has negative effects which can present from birth into adulthood.

“When a mother smokes while pregnant, the baby is absorbing carbon monoxide, nicotine, and other cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes,” says Cady Cornell, Tobacco Health Educator, Northern Kentucky Health Department (NKY Health).

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that nationwide, 7.2% of women smoke during pregnancy. Kentucky has an alarmingly much higher rate, the second highest in the nation, at 18.7%.

Cady Cornell

All Northern Kentucky counties have higher rates than the national average and some counties have a rate higher than the state average. Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA) Kentucky KIDS COUNT Project says that the percentage of women smoking during pregnancy for Boone is 13.2%, Campbell 18.6%, Kenton 20.6%, and Grant 30.5%.

Women who smoke may have difficulty conceiving. Once pregnant, the chances of miscarriage are significantly increased. Smoking during pregnancy accounts for 10% of miscarriages, according to the American Lung Association and for 20-30% of low-birthweight (LBW) babies says the CDC.

“A baby is considered to have a low birth weight when the baby is less than the 10th percentile of weight based on the number of weeks of gestations (e.g. time spent in the womb prior to birth),” Angie McMillen, RN, Community Health Nurse at NKY Health says. McMillen works to refer her pregnant patients to resources for quitting.

The March of Dimes explains how low-birth-weight (LBW) babies are prone to respiratory distress, bleeding in the brain, and infections at birth. However, their problems do not end in infancy. LBW babies have long-term complications. Into adulthood, they are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and intellectual and developmental disabilities according to the March of Dimes.

Angie McMillen

Smoking while pregnant leads to other repercussions for the baby. An immediate, obvious effect is cleft lip and cleft palate, of which both are linked to smoking. Other consequences can include Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and depression because smoking effects developing brain tissue and chemical messengers for the nervous system (neurotransmitters).

The good news is that there are resources to help women who smoke to quit before getting pregnant, during pregnancy, and even after giving birth.

Quitting, at any time, is a good thing. The body begins to heal immediately. The American Lung Association is a great resource for quitting and learning those benefits. Twenty minutes after quitting, the heart rate drops to a normal level. In a short 12-24 hours, the carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to normal and the risk for a heart attack is significantly reduced. In 2 weeks to 3 months after, the risk of heart attack drops, and lung function begins improving.

Kentucky Moms Maternal Assistance Towards Recovery (Ky-Moms MATR) at NorthKey Community Care, is a program that specifically focuses on moms wanting to quit tobacco, alcohol, or other substance use. The program provides education and case management/service coordination. Classes are free, at NorthKey locations, and women attending earn free baby items.

Pharmacies have teamed up with NKY Health to offer a free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) Program. Participating pharmacies provide two weeks of free NRT to anyone who requests it. No prescription, doctor’s note, or any other paperwork is needed, just ask your pharmacist about it. However, for women, only those who are not pregnant can participate.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare offers the American Cancer Society’s Freshstart Tobacco Cessation Program. St. Elizabeth holds sessions once a week, for four weeks, at all locations. The program provides empowerment. Individuals take charge of their efforts, are supported by others going through the program, and receive individualized attention to determine their best path.

“Given the addictive aspect of nicotine, it is not surprising that it takes an average of nine attempts to quit smoking. Some people quit on the first try and for others, it may take a few more,” says Cornell. She says having a plan to wean off nicotine while also getting support for the emotional and mental side of smoking is most successful.

Such an addictive and toxic chemical can change your life and your baby’s life. You do not have to quit smoking alone.

Help is out there, ask for it.

Maridith Yahl is the NKyTribune’s health reporter

Thanks to Report for America, with support from the Ground Truth Project, St. ELizabeth Healthcare, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Douglas G. Martin Foundation. You, too, can support this reporting and other NKyTribune reporting with a tax-deductible donation today. Help us continue to provide accurate, up-to-date local news and information you can depend on.

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