New Zealand’s high rate of smoking during pregnancy is a public health emergency, says Waikato District Health Board public health physician Nina Scott.
The figures don’t paint a pretty picture with almost one in five Waikato mothers smoking during pregnancy and two in five pregnant Maori women (41 per cent) smoking.
Being pregnant hardly reduces the smoking rate, with only a current two per cent decrease in smoking rates during pregnancy.
Dr Scott, who works with Waikato DHB’s Maori Health Service Te Puna Oranga, says the time has come to put some serious effort in to addressing maternal smoking.
And that all began at the Health Excellence Wananga hosted by Waikato DHB at Turangawaewae Marae last week, with the signing of a call to action on maternal smoking by about 100 conference attendees.
“Turangawaewae was established to raise health standards for our people. I support this call to action for its potential to do that,” said Turangawaewae Marae Trust chairman Pokaia Nepia.
“A Smokefree pregnancy is one of the best ways to promote a healthy pregnancy and baby.”
Dr Scott, of Waikato, Ngati Whatua descent, said the call to action represents a strong commitment to reducing the harm caused by tobacco during pregnancy by people of the Waikato.
“Signatories represented those who are charged with supporting pregnant women and their babies to have the best possible outcomes and included leaders from key organisations such as Waikato DHB, primary health organisations and well child providers.
“Others, such as midwives, general practitioners, smoking cessation workers and obstetricians who are responsible for the care of pregnant women were also invited to sign the call to action, as was anyone who has an interest in achieving the Smokefree Vision 2025 goal of a 95 per cent Smokefree New Zealand by the year 2025.”
Waikato’s Smokefree Pregnancy Leadership Team member Heather Sears, also a midwife, said women and their families need better support to help them quit smoking.
“Health professionals need to provide support in a consistent and high quality way,” she said.
“Evidence shows that ectopic pregnancy, increase in maternal heart rate and blood pressure, spontaneous abortion, placental insufficiency, low birth weight babies, preterm delivery, Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy, childhood respiratory disease and retarded brain development including Attention Deficit Disorder are linked to smoking during pregnancy.”
“The ultimate goal is to reduce the poor health outcomes experienced by women and infants due to exposure to tobacco,” said Dr Scott.
“Looking after women and infants with poor outcomes due to smoking puts pressure on families, communities and healthcare services.”
Women who smoke during pregnancy are typically highly tobacco dependent, and live with others who smoke. While informing them of the risks of smoking during pregnancy is important, this on its own is unlikely to lead to a Smokefree pregnancy.
“More action is needed to prioritise action to support pregnant women who smoke to become Smokefree.
“This should include providing women with nicotine replacement therapy and support through referral to smoking cessation services. Well organised, high quality, equitable health care is needed in the area of smoking cessation.”
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