Quitting not easy for smoking moms

Women who quit smoking during pregnancy don't get nearly enough support in their efforts to remain non-smokers after giving birth.

This is the conclusion of a team of investigators from UBC's School of Nursing and the Institute of Health Promotion Research (IHPR) who are testing the effectiveness of a post-partum smoking intervention program.

"It's not simply a matter of telling people not to smoke," says Joy Johnson, assistant professor of Nursing. "Women have to plan ahead about how they will handle high-risk situations where they will be tempted to smoke after the baby is born."

Johnson says the adverse effects of smoking during pregnancy should be strong inducements for women to quit. She cites evidence indicating that newborns of smoking mothers are likely to have retarded growth, reduced lung function, increased blood pressure and a host of other serious health problems.

Reports indicate that about 50 per cent of women kick the habit during pregnancy. However, studies also show that 70 per cent of those women will resume smoking after birth.

Johnson and her colleagues believe nurses can play a key role in supporting women who have quit during pregnancy.

To test its theory, the team is tracking the progress of 255 women recruited from five hospitals in the Lower Mainland. Some participants received the planned intervention, which includes receiving information and support from nurses in the hospital and later in the home through frequent telephone contact.

"Sometimes calls are brief because things are going well and other times they're in-depth because these women have a lot going on in their lives," says Johnson. "Smoking is a tempting way of dealing with the various new stresses and challenges they face."

Some new mothers receive an information package complete with no smoking signs for their cars and homes as well as advice on what to do when temptation strikes. Suggestions include: avoiding smoking places and smoking friends for a while; chewing carrot sticks; or distracting yourself by playing with your baby.

Johnson points out that cravings for cigarettes may die down during pregnancy with the natural shift in hormones. However, often these cravings return following childbirth.

Co-investigator Joan Bottorff, associate professor of Nursing, says that there is very little structured information shared by women about the effects of second-hand smoke on babies.

For instance, few realize that a small child held by someone who is smoking will breathe in more cancer-causing chemicals than the smoker. Sidestream smoke from the burning end of a cigarette has more tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide and other chemicals than the smoke inhaled by the smoker through the cigarette's filter.

Joining Johnson and Bottorff in the intervention study are assistant professors Wendy Hall and Pamela Ratner.

The smoking intervention study is funded by the National Health Research and Development Program as part of the Tobacco Demand Reduction Strategy.

Results of the study are due out in June.