Are Pregnant Women Really Smoking To Make Their Babies Smaller?

When Mad Men features scenes of pregnant women smoking, the image is meant to be jarring and show how much the world has changed since the 1960s. But of course, women still smoke during pregnancy. Even though smoking while pregnant is widely regarded as unacceptable, doctors say many women are purposely smoking in the hopes of having a smaller baby.

The Telegraph reports that at a recent meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Stockholm, researchers said women are ignoring warnings about smoking and prenatal development because they're hoping to stunt their child's growth, thus making their delivery easier. Professor Nick Macklon of Britain's Southampton University said:

"It is important that people who believe that a smaller baby means an easier birth take into account the increased risk of complicated deliveries in smokers, as well as the risk of disease later in life which goes with low birth weight. Smoking during pregnancy is not just bad for the mother and baby, but for the adult it ill grow into."

The article doesn't mention any evidence that many pregnant smokers are motivated by hopes of an easier labor. Much like the supposed "too posh to push" trend, which alleges that women schedule elective C-sections because they believe they are easier than vaginal birth (except for the major abdominal surgery), it seems possible that this is just a nasty way to judge women who are pregnant.

It seems more likely that women who smoke while pregnant do so because cigarettes are incredibly addictive. Many studies show that exposing babies to cigarette smoke in utero is a horrible idea, but accusing pregnant smokers of being too vain and stupid to want a healthy-sized baby doesn't help.

What may solve the problem is more research and education. The doctors say they've found the first "hard evidence" that women who stop smoking early in their pregnancies can have perfectly healthy babies. Researchers looked at data from 50,000 pregnancies in the U.K. and compared the babies' birth weight to the mothers' description of their smoking habits. While women who smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day had babies that weighed about 11 oz less than average, those who quit around the time they conceived were just as likely as non-smokers to have a normal-weight baby.

Eventually, we went from a world where Betty Draper openly brandished a cigarette while pregnant to one where most pregnant women don't smoke (at least, not in public). The shift was caused by more public awareness of the dangers of smoking, not attacking the women themselves.

Mothers-To-Be Smoking For Smaller Babies [The Telegraph]

Earlier: Too Posh To Push? Some Pregnant Women Are Just Wigged Out

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