Valerie Gommon Midwife’s Blog

Smoking in pregnancy

Posted on: February 5, 2009

Well, I was on Three Counties Radio again last night – there was an item in the news about smoking in pregnancy and I was asked to comment.

Apparently, there is a new government campaign targeted to help pregnant women stop smoking.  The advertising campaign, from NHS Smokefree, will highlight how every smoked cigarette restricts essential oxygen to the baby; it will show that a baby’s heart has to beat harder every time a pregnant woman smokes.

According to statistics put out, around one in five pregnant women in England smoke during their pregnancy.  I have to say that I find this figure surprisingly (and alarmingly) high.  It probably doesn’t correlate with my overall clinical experience and certainly not with my Independent Practice ( where almost none of my clients smoke; there is a definite correlation between social class and smoking and I guess I have usually worked in relatively affluent areas.

I think it is easy to be judgemental – people make choices in their lives, and may find smoking a relief to stressful situations, and one should not underestimate the power of addiction.  That said it is obviously harmful to smoke at any time and even more particularly when pregnant.  Women who smoke (or indeed whose partners smoke) are at increased risk or miscarriage, having smaller babies or cot death.  Additionally there are health risks for the child of an increase in coughs and colds, asthma or chest infections, meningitis, glue ear and lung cancer when they are adult.

It is important that you do not bed-share with your baby if you or your partner are smokers as this significant increases the risk of cot death, or indeed breathe too closely over a baby if you have recently smoked as you will be exhaling carbon monoxide for up to an hour after your last cigarette!

Interestingly a poll of 224 pregnant women for the campaign revealed 28% would seek help to stop smoking but were worried about being judged – this is something that we as Health Professionals need to be very mindful of – it is not our place to be judgemental, but to give appropriate information and support.  A total of 38% said they sometimes hid their smoking because they were worried about people criticising them, while 39% said they were ashamed to admit their habit to their midwife or healthcare professional.  A wider survey of more than 2,000 adults found 49% were critical of pregnant women who smoked.

The NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline number is 0800 1699 169 and more information can be found at

1 Response to "Smoking in pregnancy"

I think this is a very difficult thing. As you said in your article, you shouldn’t underestimate the power of addiction. Cigarette boxes now have pictures of diseased organs on them, but people still smoke because they are addicted.

I used to smoke, and I gave up when I found out I was expecting my first baby. I had smoked for years and tried many times to give up. It took that to give me the motivation I needed.

How do you help people without making them feel like they are being judged? I went out a few months ago, and saw a woman who was very prenant, very drunk smoking a cigarette. I consider myself not to be a judemental person and I used to smoke myself, but even I thought, how can anyone have such little regard for thier unborn baby?

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