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Tots Mind if Moms Smoke

September 21, 1998|MERCEDES BRENNEISEN-GOODE | Mercedes Brenneisen-Goode, MD, is in private practice in Los Angeles specializing in women's cancers. She has been a volunteer for the American Cancer Society since 1977

Each pregnancy is life's miracle repeating itself. The mother's body is perfectly designed to protect and nourish the fetus during its nine-month stay. But the body's protective system is severely limited when the mother smokes. Whatever the mother eats or inhales eventually finds its way into the baby's bloodstream through the placenta--the structure in the uterus that supplies nourishment to the fetus.

While most pregnant women diligently avoid exposing their unborn children to any harmful substances, some do not. Teenagers and unwed mothers, in particular, tend to ignore the time-honored recommendation of abstinence from tobacco. The less educated the mother, the greater the chance she will continue to smoke during pregnancy.

Education is the key to the health of our future children and their mothers. In November, Californians will vote on the California Children and Families Initiative, which includes teaching young women who are pregnant about the negative effects of smoking. It will also provide smoking cessation assistance to pregnant women. Funding will come from an additional 50 cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes.

If you are pregnant or planning a family, here are four good reasons to quit smoking now:

(1) Smoking retards the growth of your baby in the womb.

Babies of smoking women average six ounces less than babies of nonsmoking women. This is caused by nicotine from the cigarettes restricting blood vessels and breathing movements.

Although weight loss is quickly regained after birth, one follow-up study showed that a larger percentage of 7-year-old children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy were shorter in average height, tended to have poor developmental performance scores and rated lower in social adjustment than children of mothers who had not smoked during pregnancy.

(2) Smoking increases the incidence of infant mortality.

Studies show a direct link between smoking during pregnancy and spontaneous abortion and stillbirth. The children of women who smoke a pack or more a day during pregnancy have about a 50% risk of infant death and a greater risk of mortality during the preschool years. Babies run a greater risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Children experience more respiratory infections while young. As they reach adulthood, they develop asthma and chronic bronchial inflammation.

(3) Smoking increases your risk of an unhealthy pregnancy.

Smoking increases the likelihood of increased intrauterine bleeding, abnormal implantation of the fetus, premature delivery and the premature rupture of the protective membranes surrounding the fetus.

(4) Your child needs a healthy mother.

Motherhood is a responsibility. This means staying healthy and alive for your child. Smokers have a greater risk of death or disability at a younger age due to cancer and heart disease. They are also more likely to suffer from colds, gastric ulcers, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and cerebrospinal disease.

Help is available for mothers-to-be who smoke. Some involve medications prescribed by a doctor that will take away the nicotine cravings. Free literature and cessation programs are also available through your local American Cancer Society and by calling the state-funded California Smokers Helpline at (800) 7NO-BUTTS (766-2888).

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