Numbers are decreasing, but Australian women continue to smoke while pregnant

Neelima Choahan

20/09/2018 12:13:41 PM

The number of Australian women smoking while pregnant has dropped from 13% in 2011 to 10% in 2015, but antenatal expert Dr Wendy Burton says more needs to be done to get the message across to all mothers.

The new AIHW study has revealed that around one in 10 Australian women continue to smoke during the first 20 weeks of their pregnancy.
The new AIHW study has revealed that around one in 10 Australian women continue to smoke during the first 20 weeks of their pregnancy.

Around one in 10 Australian women continue to smoke during the first 20 weeks of their pregnancy, a new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report has revealed.
This week’s Children’s Headline Indicators are a set of 19 measurable indicators that identify the immediate environments particularly important to children’s health, development and wellbeing.
It showed that, in 2015, 10.1% of  mothers across Australia smoked during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, down from 12.9% in 2011.
The proportion of women who smoked during the first 20 weeks was highest among teenage mothers, with almost one-third (32.3%) of mothers under the age of 20 reporting smoking during this period. The proportion varied according to maternal age: 6.4%, 6.3% and 6.8% for mothers aged 30–34, 35–39, and 40 and older, respectively.
Dr Wendy Burton, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Antenatal/Postnatal Care network, said the figures show there is a lot of work to be done.
‘It is an ongoing challenge to have the community aware of the behaviours that put themselves or their children or their unborn children at risk,’ she told newsGP.
‘It is a whole-of-community approach that we need. It is health literacy, it is pricing … it is awareness.’
Dr Burton said it is better to give up smoking earlier – or not to start at all – rather than trying to give up during pregnancy.
‘We know … that about 51% of pregnancies are unplanned,’ she said.
‘So even if women think, “Smoking, oh yes, that’s the thing I will stop when I am pregnant or when I am planning a pregnancy” … [but] if I had a dollar for every person who said, “I will quit when I want to” and everyone who said “I wish I had quit when I could”, I would be a rich woman.
‘It is a highly addictive substance and it’s hard to quit even when you are motivated.’

Dr Wendy Burton says it is a challenge to make people in the community aware of the risks smoking poses to their unborn child.

The AIHW report also showed that the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who smoke during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy was 3.7 times higher (43.8%) than non-Indigenous women (11.7%).
Mothers born in Australia (13.4%) were 3.8 times as likely to smoke during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy when compared to overseas-born mothers (3.5%).
Smoking rates were around 3.4 times higher for those mothers living in remote or very remote areas (26%) when compared to women living in major cities (7.7%).
Dr Burton said women who smoke can use the Quitline’s app Quit For You Quit For Two, which is specifically tailored for pregnant women.
‘It’s incredibly concerning to see that so many women here in Victoria are smoking while pregnant,’ Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White said.
‘Smoking affects how the placenta forms and how a baby’s lungs and brain form. Children of women who smoked during pregnancy are also more likely to have a low birth weight, and are at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome [SIDS], childhood cancers, high blood pressure, asthma, obesity and lowered cognitive development later in life.
‘It’s really important that women who are pregnant take steps to quit smoking as soon as possible. Even if you’re already pregnant, it’s never too late to quit.’
Dr White said pregnant women who smoke should not be afraid to try replacement therapy products.
‘Although nicotine replacement products do contain nicotine, they’re nowhere near as harmful as smoking,’ she said. ‘Unlike cigarettes, they don’t contain thousands of cancer-causing toxic chemicals like tar and carbon monoxide.
‘We know cigarettes can be one of the most challenging of all the things pregnant women have to give up, but there is so much to gain for women and their babies.’

AIHW Children’s Headline Indicators pregnant smoking

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