Staying off cigs after giving birth

  • Deborah Condon

A new study has shed some light on factors which may ensure that women who give up smoking during pregnancy, stay off the cigarettes after giving birth.

While many women manage to quit smoking during pregnancy, half resume the habit within a few months of giving birth. A team of US researchers set out to investigate not only the factors leading to relapse, but also those leading to a smoke-free life after pregnancy.

According to the findings, those living with a partner who shared some of the burden of childrearing were more likely to remain smoke-free. Women who were single mothers or who lacked the social and financial resources to deal with being a new parent were more likely to relapse.

The researchers interviewed pregnant women who had quit smoking before 30 weeks gestation. Of the 94 women interviewed, 43 had stayed off the cigarettes and 51 had resumed smoking when interviewed four months after the birth.

All of the women were asked about their decision to quit during pregnancy, how they quit and what they would do in the future.

Women who had remained smoke-free were asked about the benefits they had experienced, how they would handle temptations to smoke, how they had rewarded themselves for not smoking and what support they might need to remain smoke-free.

Women who had relapsed were asked to describe specific situations that caused them to return to smoking, their feelings about smoking again, their perceptions about the dangers of second hand smoke and what would need to be different in their lives in order for them to stop smoking again.

The researchers found a number of factors that appeared to set the two groups apart. Those who remained smoke-free were bolstered by strong social support, strong internal belief systems and strong beliefs in the health benefits of not smoking. They also appeared to have concrete strategies for dealing with temptations.

However the women who had resumed smoking were undermined by easy access to cigarettes, a reliance on cigarettes to deal with stress, a lack of financial resources for childrearing and low self-esteem.

The findings may enable researchers and doctors to distinguish between pregnant women who will ultimately relapse and those who will remain smoke-free.

“In the future, we can look at these and other factors in women who quit smoking during pregnancy to assess who is at low or high risk of relapse. We can then offer more intensive interventions for those at higher risk to address the physical, behavioural and social issues related to relapse,” said Carol Ripley-Moffitt of the University of South Carolina.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

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