What's Worse? Smoking or the Nicotine Patch While Pregnant?
I found this statistic a bit shocking: each year, more than 500,000 babies in the US are born to women who smoked while they were pregnant. That number seems staggering! Surveys also show that up to 30 percent of doctors offer nicotine replacement to pregnant women who smoke.
So here’s the question: what’s worse? Continuing to smoke while pregnant or trying to stop by using a nicotine patch?
Researchers have widely differing views. Some believe the patch reduces a fetus’s exposure to many of the toxic chemicals other than nicotine found in cigarette smoke. While other studies suggest that nicotine replacement doesn’t help pregnant women quit smoking, and in fact, the nicotine itself can endanger a fetus.
For a typical smoker, nicotine patches and the like can double the chances that the smoker will stop smoking. But studies have not shown that kind of success in pregnant women.
Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study of 1,000 pregnant smokers in England, all of whom got counseling and were asked to wear an adhesive patch on their skin. Some women were given nicotine in the patch and some women got placebo… and there was no difference in their quit rate. Once the women gave birth, the ones who got nicotine replacement were just as likely as those who didn’t to start smoking yet again. But the women who got nicotine patches had been less likely to smoke early in their pregnancies.
So, the answer is smoking, but more because of its effects. Animal studies demonstrate that nicotine is especially disruptive to a developing brain. Women who smoke are more likely to have children with problems like ADHD and conduct or learning disorders. Nicotine isn’t the only toxin in cigarette smoke that can affect brain development, either. Carbon monoxide, also present in cigarettes, has been shown to damage fetal brain cells.
The best option for the pregnant smoker is going cold turkey—it might not be what they want to hear, but putting baby first is the absolute best thing to do.
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