If more women quit smoking before they became pregnant, it would save infant lives, concludes a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Despite a decline over the past decade in the number of women who smoke during pregnancy, smoking is still a major cause of newborn deaths, early births and babies born with low birth weight.
“We know about half of women quit when they find out that they are pregnant, but a lot of women are still smoking during pregnancy,” said Patricia Dietz, DrPh, lead study investigator.
The study appears online and in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Dietz and co-investigators examined data from the US Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set, which included all 3.3 million births of single babies that occurred in the United States (with the exception of California) during 2002. About 11.5 percent of babies, or 386,000, had mothers who smoked during pregnancy.
Researchers determined that prenatal smoking caused 5 percent to 8 percent of premature births and 13 percent to 19 percent of cases of low birth weight in babies carried to full term. Of infants who died, 5 percent to 7 percent of preterm-related deaths and 23 percent to 34 percent of deaths caused by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) might have been preventable if the mother had not smoked before pregnancy.
In addition, the researchers wrote that if all women quit smoking during pregnancy, it could cut health care costs by about $232 million every year — and improve overall health for both mothers and children.
“The percentage of SIDS deaths that might be avoided with smoking cessation is a significant number,” said Diane Ashton, M.D., deputy medical director of the March of Dimes. “For women who smoke and are considering pregnancy, we strongly recommend that they get preconception counseling for smoking cessation.”
Given these sobering statistics, why do some women continue to smoke during pregnancy?
“Studies have shown that these women may be dealing with a lot of stress, such as economic hardship, or they might be dealing with depression or other mental health issues,” Dietz said. “Most of them are living with other smokers that make it difficult to quit. They may be living in communities where it’s acceptable to smoke — where everyone is smoking. So it’s really complex.”
“This is an addiction,” Ashton said. “If pregnancy could cure addiction then none of these issues would be a problem. During pregnancy, women tend to be a little more highly motivated to address their addictions, but a lot of it depends on the level of readiness of the individual.”
Dietz PM, et al. Infant morbidity and mortality attributable to prenatal smoking in the US. Am J Prev Med 39(1), 2010.