Are Pregnant Women Really Smoking To Make Their Babies Smaller?

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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

Image via Fesus Robert/Shutterstock.



*deep breath* I'm going to propose that this has a lot to do with class. Since this is a British study reported in a British paper, I'm going to focus on the stats here in the UK, which clearly point to higher rates of smoking in "non-manual socio-economic groups" (i.e., lower classes):


So, I'm thinking the hubbub over smoking women and birth weight might be one of those lower class boogeyman issues, kind of like "welfare queens" in the US. Without a lot a proof, we can look down our noses on lower class women doing obviously bad things, because hey, you know, they're poor and stupid and they do bad things and their bad choices are causing "us," the hard working higher classes, our hard earned taxes in the form of babies who are going to need more medical care. True, lower class often equals less education, meaning a higher chance that women are going to make poorer, ill-informed choices about their babies (like thinking smoking will cause lower birthrate). However, there is no proof, as many have pointed out, that this thought-process is actually the reason behind why some women smoke through pregnancy. I'm going to assume (not being a smoker myself), that the whole HIGHLY ADDICTIVE thing has more to do with it.

Also, anecdotally, in my social work career, I've seen many a poor woman smoking like a chimney while pregnant—because their lives are really fricking stressful (domestic violence and living on the edge of poverty and what not) and they sort of need the stress relief. I've always overlooked smoking moms—maybe that makes me a bad social worker, but I figure, if their lives are fucked up enough to need me, the last thing they need is me giving them a hard time for smoking.