Stop Smoking for Your Baby’s Sake
By Phyllis Edgerly Ring
One of Amy Gaillard’s biggest scares came when she found her 2-year-old with a pack of his father’s cigarettes, holding one to his mouth. “This was not the kind of message I wanted to be sending,” says the Blaine, Minnesota, mother, now expecting her second child.
Former smoker Gaillard kicked the habit when she knew she was pregnant, refrained from smoking while breastfeeding and has been smoke-free since. “It was important that my child start out fresh,” she says.
A study in the archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine documented that mothers who smoke while breastfeeding pass harmful levels of nicotine to their babies. Researchers studying newborns at risk for asthma and allergies based on family history found measurable levels of nicotine in the infants’ urine, with significantly higher levels in breastfed babies whose mothers smoked. According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in September 1994, mothers who smoked even 10 cigarettes a day cause their children under 5 to have positive blood tests for nicotine and cancer-causing compounds.
Going Smoke-Free “When I was nursing, I tried to sneak a smoke now and then—if I was out with friends or a friend came over, we’d slip outside while the baby slept,” says Hannah Hayes of Chicago, Illinois. “But the effect of nicotine was so obvious. He’d scream for hours and be really squirmy and antsy. I quickly stopped.”
Both Hayes and Gaillard quit cold turkey, something that works when motivation is high. Their advice: After the first two weeks, when the physical effects of withdrawal decrease, quitting will get easier.
Cold turkey is the preferred method for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, says nutritionist Kim Truesdale, who with health educator Dolly Waters, conducts smoking cessation programs for prenatal and breastfeeding mothers at Families First in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Because breastfeeding mothers pass whatever they ingest on to their babies, Families First doesn’t advocate the use of nicotine patches or medications. “We encourage mothers to make attitude and lifestyle changes instead because this has the greatest effect,” Waters says.
The program includes individual counseling and four weeks of workshops that help mothers plan a smoke-free life, as well as improve the quality of their own health and their babies’ heatlh.
Leaving smoking behind ultimately helps you understand more about yourself and why you smoke, says Truesdale. As any ex-smoker knows, being ready to quit is different from knowing why you should. Many people have reasons for continuing to smoke. Among the more common are that smokers find the act relaxing or pleasurable, use it when bonding socially with others, substitute smoking for other desires like food or use it to cope with an underlying disorder such as depression, Waters explains.
Because stress and coping are the biggest reasons women choose to smoke, Families First offers alternatives to help them tackle stressors more constructively. Sessions teach about stretching and relaxation techniques, breath work and other stress-reduction approaches such as reading, writing, baths, or what Truesdale calls “soft walks,” taken more for solitude than exercise. “Women are often amazed at the difference they feel when they simply begin to take care of themselves,” she says.
Strategies For a New Way of Life Several fears come up for mothers who want to stop smoking, says Truesdale. She adds, “Weight gain’s the biggest fear, of course.”
Weight issues can be minimized by avoiding high-fat, empty-calorie snacks. Diet and exercise help offset potential weight gain, as well as help women feel better, she says. “I encourage them to take control by having lots of healthy snacks they like on hand. We also urge them to drink as much fluid as possible and boost their body’s healing from smoking with orange juice or other good sources of vitamin C.”
“I also try to focus on all of the other good kinds of gains they’ll experience,” Truesdale says. “Your body’s going to breathe easier and digest your food better. Things are going to taste better. You’re going to smell better.”
“I did exercise and would always remind myself how difficult it would be if I were a smoker,” says Hayes.
Regular aerobic exercise such as walking also minimizes weight gain, and activity helps quell the restlessness those trying to quit often experience.
“I didn’t always know what to do with my hands,” says Gaillard. “I also worried that I would get withdrawal [symptoms] and take it out on my first-born. But the two of us found outlets—we started preschool at home.”
Another fear associated with quitting includes fear of losing social time with other smokers.
“Limit your time spent around smokers for a while,” advises Gaillard.
Waters has mothers create a plan for what they will do instead of smoking. “You need to look at things you associate with smoking and decide how you will approach them without it, whether it’s socializing or driving,” she explains. “We ask them to write down what it will look like and feel like when they stop smoking and discuss their plan with someone else. The program also encourages a buddy system in which mothers call fellow participants for support if tempted to smoke. And it provides incentives for mothers to succeed, including rewards of massages, pedicures and haircuts.
Ultimately the best incentive is your own child, Gaillard and Hayes agree.
Remind yourself every time you want to smoke that you’re responsible for the health and well-being of your baby, Hayes says. “Ask yourself, ‘Would I do anything to harm this baby knowingly?’ and the answer will be no,” she said.