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High Rate of Smoking Relapse After Pregnancy and Delivery

Monday, August 5th, 2013

It is no secret that smoking can have an incredibly harmful effect on a growing fetus. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to major problems, from fetal deformities to miscarriages and stillbirths. All women are encouraged to quit smoking well before conceiving, and those that do not are encouraged to quit smoking as quickly as possible after discovering that they are pregnant. There are many intervention programs in place to help women who smoke quit during pregnancy. However, there has been a lot of concern in recent years that smoking cessation during pregnancy is not permanent.

Studies have shown that upwards of 48 percent of women who do quit smoking during pregnancy will relapse afterwards, with a sharp increase in relapse occurring up to a point about six months after delivery. Traditional intervention programs designed to help women quit smoking during pregnancy have shown low success rates in helping a woman quit smoking overall.

This is important because the risks of second-hand smoke are still much higher than is safe, especially with the association of second-hand smoke and the development of childhood asthma. Women are encouraged to make every attempt to quit smoking, not only for their own health, but also for the health of their families.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that quitting during pregnancy—when there is a strong motivation to quit—does not have the lasting effects that could be hoped for. Additionally, the stressful time after delivery is often debilitating to a woman’s efforts to remain nicotine-free.

It is strongly suggested that women who quit smoking during pregnancy seek some sort of aid, counseling, or even medical intervention after delivery in order to prevent smoking relapse. There are a number of products and coping strategies available that can help. While it is admirable to want to quit, it may not be wise to attempt to go “cold turkey”, even for women who have gone without a cigarette for up to, or over, nine months.

Women should remember that their lives change in many ways after they deliver a child. The coping strategies a woman develops during pregnancy may not work in the postpartum period, especially without the motivation of being pregnant to prevent smoking relapse. As a woman’s Ob-Gyn will most likely be the doctor a woman sees the most during the postpartum period, they are an incredible resource for helping their patients stay off the cigarettes for good.

I have helped many women quit smoking in my years as a doctor, and with help a good number of those women never smoke again.  Women need to take extra steps to quit smoking permanently to ensure both their health and that of their families.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.