Women are up to 70% less likely to stop smoking during their pregnancy if their partner continues to smoke, a Growing Up in Ireland report to be published later today will show.
The finding by the National Longitude Study of Children has called for campaigns to stop smoking to be targeted at the partner as well as the woman herself.
The report draws on data from 11,000 infants and their families and looks at three specific health behaviours among mothers in the prenatal and antenatal period – cigarette smoking in pregnancy, alcohol consumption in pregnancy and breastfeeding. It examines the impact of those behaviours on the child’s birth weight and subsequent growth and development from birth to nine months.
A comparison of children born in 1999 and 2007 found that the proportion of women smoking at all in pregnancy has fallen from 28% to 17%. However, on a less positive note, it found 13% of all mothers smoked all the way through their pregnancy.
The authors of the report, Professor Richard Layte and Dr Cathal McCrory of Trinity College Dublin, found that being poor and having low levels of education contributed to the risk of smoking. They also report that smoking was strongly related to the woman’s mental health – those experiencing “a great deal of stress” were 37% more likely to smoke.
The report advised, therefore, that assessment and intervention for stress and anxiety should be a “priority” when the woman attends her first prenatal appointment.
“There is a steady relationship between the number of cigarettes smoked in pregnancy and birth weight,” the authors said. “Smoking 11+ cigarettes daily decreases birth weight by a third of a kilo on average.”
When it came to drinking during pregnancy, the report authors found that it was women with higher levels of income and education who were more likely to consume alcohol during pregnancy.
“The high consumption of alcohol in Irish society means that many children are exposed to high levels of alcohol until a woman’s pregnancy is confirmed,” the report said. “Reducing levels of consumption among younger women would be beneficial for both their own and their future children’s health.”
The results of their research has led the authors to conclude that parents here are not aware of the health consequences of weaning a child before six months. They found that half of the children they studied had been moved onto solid foods before that guideline age.
“Less breastfeeding and earlier weaning onto solid foods was associated with an unhealthy pattern of weight gain in infancy,” they said. “This reinforces the need for health professionals to communicate a clearer message on this issue to parents.”
A study of breastfeeding patterns among the test group showed that women who gave birth in a maternity hospital which was accredited under the “Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative” were 10% more likely to initiate breastfeeding.
“All maternity hospitals should be BFHI accredited,” the authors said. “Resources for the promotion of breastfeeding and BFHI accreditation should be substantially increased.”
Professor Richard Layte concluded that poor child and maternal environment during pregnancy and infancy contributes to early ill health and may have life-long consequences.
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