Smoking is often considered a masculine habit. However, women started questioning – Why should men have all the fun? Then they began smoking too. While we appreciate and welcome equality, we must also think the health risks a woman has to undergo due to this habit (even men undergo serious side effects).
Ironically, this habit continues even during pregnancy, and the impact of it is far more dangerous than one could think. Thought Habitat spoke to Dr. Mukta Aggarwal, Additional Professor Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, AIIMS, New Delhi who is talking about smoking among pregnant women and how it impacts their health as well as the child’s health in due course.
How does tobacco use affect pregnant women and the health of their babies?
Tobacco use can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births, birth defects and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). The baby can have complications like underdeveloped lungs and brain, neurological abnormalities, cognitive dysfunction and the risk of allergies, and asthma risk in later life.
Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy hurt both the mother and the child. Once the child is born, continued exposure to secondhand smoke throughout childhood and adolescence increases the risk of lung diseases and early mortality.
How is consumption of tobacco connected to increased chances of stillbirth and congenital malformation?
Tobacco use, especially through smoking, causes hypoxia i.e. deficiency of oxygen. This can result in stillbirths and malformations. Additionally, nicotine interacts with endogenous acetylcholine receptors in the brain and lung, and exposure during development interferes with normal neurotransmitter function, thus evoking neurodevelopmental abnormalities.
Is it true that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) could be caused by secondhand smoke?
Yes, secondhand smoking is an established cause factor for SIDS as proven in various studies available in medical literature.
What side effect is a pregnant woman subjected to?
There is evidence that pregnant women are at greater risk of hypertension, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, low-lying placenta, placental abruption and premature labour pains. In general, tobacco consumption or exposure can lead to infertility, low birth-weight infants, stillbirths, miscarriages, and infant deaths. Both maternal and child health are affected due to tobacco use and exposure.
What are the possible ways to overcome this issue?
Self-motivation, family support, self-help groups, psychological help, behavioural therapy and pharmacotherapy are some of the ways of countering a tobacco problem.
Husbands and other family members should stop smoking to prevent passive smoking by the woman. Women should be motivated to continue all efforts to maintain a tobacco-free environment during the post-partum period.
Furthermore, stronger policies and awareness programs around the harmful effects of tobacco should be in place in order to create the necessary safe and healthy environment for women.