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FOR RELEASE: April 25 , 2006
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Smoking During Pregnancy Increases Risk
of Low Birth Weight Babies

A recent Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) study affirms that tobacco use during pregnancy remains one of the most important preventable causes of poor birth outcomes, including low birth weight babies. Mothers who smoked during pregnancy were shown to be almost twice as likely to have a low birth weight baby as mothers who did not smoke.

In a report published in the winter 2006 issue of the OSDH publication PRAMS GRAM, the study found that about 30 percent of Oklahoma mothers smoked during the three months prior to pregnancy and 18 percent smoked during the last three months of their pregnancy. Nationally, only 11 percent of women smoked while pregnant. Other findings showed that 59 percent of the women who quit smoking during pregnancy began smoking again after the baby was born, exposing the baby to harmful secondhand smoke.

“The information tells us that there are far too many Oklahoma pregnant women smoking during pregnancy,” said Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Dr. Michael Crutcher. “There is a tremendous need for more education and interventions to help mothers quit smoking during pregnancy to improve the baby’s growth and to lower the risk of having a low birth weight baby.”

Women who use tobacco during pregnancy are more likely to experience complications such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and premature rupture of membranes. There is a strong link between tobacco use during pregnancy and poor infant outcomes including more preterm deliveries, low birth weight, stillbirth, neonatal and perinatal mortality. In addition, secondhand smoke aggravates childhood illnesses like otitis media, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, wheezing, and respiratory illness. Infants exposed to secondhand smoke are at higher risk for SIDS.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the costs of neonatal conditions in Oklahoma related to tobacco use during pregnancy are estimated at $5.7 million per year, mostly due to increased need for neonatal intensive care unit services. Research from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion showed that countering the problem with treatment aimed specifically at pregnant smokers can be cost effective. For every dollar spent on tobacco cessation intervention with this population, six dollars can be saved in medical costs.

“Every health care provider and every family member who can help a pregnant woman quit smoking and not start again, can help improve the health of Oklahomans and future generations. Cessation of tobacco use will also help lower health care costs in the total population,” Crutcher said.

Health care providers who have contact with pregnant women can use those opportunities to intervene with women who are more motivated to quit smoking for the sake of their babies’ health. Providers can access pregnant women easier because they may have more frequent doctors’ visits and other contacts with the health care system during this time. Brief cessation counseling sessions delivered by a trained provider with the provision of pregnancy specific, self help materials, telephone counseling and effective pharmacological agents for women also should be readily available.

The OSDH suggests the following recommendations for health care providers to assist their pregnant patients in quitting smoking:

Offer effective smoking cessation interventions to pregnant smokers that exceed the minimal advice to quit.
Assess smoking status at each visit and use relapse prevention strategies to minimize the possibility of relapse during the postpartum period.
Increase efforts to identify underlying factors that contribute to increased tobacco use during and after pregnancy, and especially when caring for most affected populations.
Use support therapy when needed such as pharmacotherapy and/or nicotine replacement therapy when the benefits outweigh the risks of the therapy and continued smoking.
Provide more targeted intervention and discussion with mothers and family members about the dangers of secondhand smoke and what they can do to limit exposure.
Encourage the use of the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669).

For more information on this issue, contact Ameyka Pittman, health educator in the OSDH Maternal and Child Health Service, at 405/271-4476.

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