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Smoking relapse 'more likely for mothers stressed by newborn care'

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The stress of caring for a newborn baby and the idea that a child no longer needs the same level of protection from harmful cigarette substances following birth are among the main reasons new mothers begin smoking again, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia studied interviews with more than 1,000 new mothers and found that factors including sleepless nights and social pressure also meant women were more likely to relapse.

The study – called Postpartum Smoking Relapse: a thematic synthesis of qualitative studies –  which was published in journal Addiction, noted more women quit smoking during pregnancy than at any other time.

However, as many as 90% start again within a year of their baby being born, particularly those in in lower socioeconomic groups, it said.

“We found women see smoking as a way a coping with stress…and that they no longer need to protect the baby from smoking’s harmful effects”

Dr Caitlin Notley

It found that supportive partners were key to women remaining smoke-free, along with personal praise from health professionals.

Lead researcher Dr Caitlin Notley, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We found that many women see smoking as a way a coping with stress. They also believe that physiological changes influence cigarette cravings, and that they no longer need to protect the baby from smoking’s harmful effects.”

She added: “Many felt that smoking after the birth of their child was acceptable provided they protected their babies from second-hand smoke.

“Their focus is, admirably, on the health of the baby, but they often do not think about the long term health consequences for themselves as mothers.”

“[Women] often do not think about the long term health consequences for themselves as mothers”

Dr Caitlin Notley

Dr Notley said social influences also contributed to a relapse due to social interaction being valued after birth, but friends expecting a return to smoking.

The study also found that for some women a return to smoking represented claiming back some of their personal identity. Researchers not the importance of supporting women to feel comfortable with their new role as mothers.

Commenting on the findings, the Royal College of Midwives’ professional policy advisor Janet Fyle said healthcare professionals should tailor their message to pregnant women about smoking to tackle misconceptions about not needing to protect the baby as much once born.

“These negative effects not only impact on the foetus during pregnancy, they also have consequences for the woman’s own health and wellbeing and that of other children and family members due to passive smoking,” she said.

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