The stigma surrounding pregnant women smoking and drinking could make them less likely to seek support from medical professionals, a study has suggested.
The research, by Cardiff University, found that women felt “judged and alienated” by people if they smoke or drank in public – and avoided speaking to midwives about it because of “awkwardness”.
The study involved in-depth interviews with 10 pregnant women, five of whom continued to smoke during their pregnancy. They reported negative reactions in public, from family, friends, strangers, partners and health professionals.
“Our study shows that these looks and comments – including by members of the public – irritate and alienate pregnant women, making them less likely to seek help,” said Dr Aimee Grant, from Cardiff University’s Centre for Trials Research. “No one wants to be judged and shamed.”
[Read More: How to stop smoking when pregnant]
Smoking is more common among working-class people than those of higher social status (although ‘kills people regardless of class’), something which led members of the research team to describe it as a “coping strategy” for low-income expectant mothers. It’s a complicated habit, of course, with two-thirds of smokers wanting to quit, but struggling to.
One participant in the study, Amy, who was pregnant but didn’t smoke, said she felt it didn’t “look good” to smoke while you’re expecting. ”If you want to smoke that’s fine,” she said. “I just don’t think it looks good when you’ve got bump on show walking around with a fag in your hand.
“If you want to do it in your house, that’s fine. When I was pregnant with my youngest, I did smoke with them but it was in my own house. I never walked around out and about with one, it’s not the best look.”
Fellow research member Dr Dunla Gallagher said rather than stigma, women need empathy and a recognition of the challenges that pregnancy can bring. Stress isn’t good for a pregnant woman or her foetus, either.
[Read More: Can I drink alcohol when pregnant?]
What women really need is a safe place to find support if they want to address their smoking or drinking habits. The NHS offers solutions for pregnant women to help stop smoking, such as nicotine replacement therapy, liquorice-flavoured nicotine products and e-cigarettes.
There is also the free NHS Smokefree helpline (0300 123 1044) available every day of the week, as well as local NHS stop smoking services – you can find this by talking to your midwife. QUIT is also a UK charity that helps smokers to stop, where they have information on quitting smoking during pregnancy available.
The same goes for alcohol. If you have difficulty cutting down what you drink, and don’t feel comfortable talking to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist, you can find confidential help and support from local counselling services – find your nearest alcohol support services here.
Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline (0300 123 1110) and can support women during pregnancy, as can Addaction, a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals and families manage the effects of alcohol misuse.