When you see a headline that reads "1 in 5 White Women Smoke During Pregnancy," you might think you've stumbled into an episode of Mad Men. But the numbers are real, according to a new government survey that looks at substance abuse (read: smoking, drugs, alcohol) among pregnant women of different racial groups.
The report, based on surveys conducted with pregnant women between 2002 and 2010, shows that 22 percent of white women ages 15 to 44 had smoked a cigarette within 30 days of taking the survey—making white women almost twice as likely as black women and more than three times as likely as Hispanic women to take a puff during pregnancy.
Other findings show that alcohol use was comparable among black and white women (12.8 percent and 12.2 percent respectively) and lower among Hispanic women (7.4 percent), while drug use was reported by about 7.7 percent of black, 4.4 percent of white, and 3.1 percent of Hispanic women.
But, as researchers point out, taken together, the numbers boil down to one simple fact: More women smoke during pregnancy than either drink or take illegal drugs.
So why hasn't the message to quit sunk in yet?
Mom-to-be Suzie Cooper of Colts Neck, New Jersey, learned from a coworker why it's not so easy to ditch the cigarettes during pregnancy. "Not too long ago, a good friend at work told me that she had secretly smoked during her pregnancy. She doesn't drink, I don't think she has ever done hard drugs in her life, but smoking..." Cooper says. "She is addicted, but felt too ashamed at the time to let her doctor—or any of us—know she couldn't quit. I think we all just assumed she had."
Though she's a non-smoker, Cooper says she can understand her friend's plight. "There is so much information about there about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy, but maybe there needs to be more pregnancy-specific resources on how to quit, so pregnant women don't feel intimidated bringing this up with their doctors—or think that there is nothing out there to help them."
Another mom, Katrina Fleming of Baltimore, Maryland, finds it interesting that more pregnant women smoke than drink alcohol—but sees the two as linked. "There has been much talk among my preggo friends about drinking during pregnancy. Every day, there seems to be new information that says light drinking isn't bad for your baby. Maybe smokers think that same message applies to them, so they're not taking the advice to quit that seriously."
But should they take it seriously? Absolutely, given the countless studies that show smoking—and exposure to secondhand smoke—increases risk for several serious infant health issues, including low birth weight, preterm birth, respiratory infections, and SIDS.
Are you trying to give up smoking now that you're pregnant? The toll-free Great Start Quitline—(866)-66-START—which is managed by the American Cancer Society, offers free one-on-one cessation counseling for pregnant smokers 24 hours a day as well as contact info for smoking cessation programs in your local area. And by all means, let your doctor or midwife know you are having trouble giving up smoking—even if you have to write it in a letter or have the nurse relay this information. There's no shame in trying to do right by your baby, and your doctor or midwife can offer specific tips to help you quit.
Cooper's friend is trying again to quit because she does not want her now 6-month-old baby to grow up exposed to secondhand smoke. The two have devised a system: the friend sends her a text whenever she wants to smoke and Cooper sends one back containing a single phrase, "Think about your baby." So far, the plan seems to be working.