How to Quit Smoking While Pregnant

Everyone knows that smoking is dangerous. It may be one thing when adults are making poor decisions and putting their own health at risk. It’s quite another when our youngest and most vulnerable are suffering from the effects of smoking — unborn babies. This, however, is exactly what’s occurring when pregnant women smoke.

“There are 426,000 women who smoke during pregnancy each year,” says Lyndon Haviland, Dr. P.H., chief operating officer of the American Legacy Foundation. “So Legacy is here to help reduce that number — we’d really like to see the phones ringing off the hook.”

She’s talking about Legacy’s new toll-free number called the Great Start Quitline. Telephone quitlines have been shown to be effective in helping people to stop smoking.

The 24-hour phone number is 1-866-66-START and offers pregnant women the chance to speak with a smoking cessation counselor one-on-one. The quitline is managed by the American Cancer Society and sponsored by the American Legacy Foundation, which are both members of the National Partnership to Help Pregnant Smokers Quit.

“The National Partnership has a unique role”, says Cathy Melvin, Ph.D., M.P.H., chairwoman of the National Partnership and director of Smoke-Free Families. More than 40 national organizations have joined the Partnership, and they are trying to get the word out about effective interventions for pregnant women. She adds they are working in the health care system to make sure the system is well prepared to serve women and that includes programs such as quitlines.

What are the risks?

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, pregnant women who smoke increase their unborn baby’s risk of the following:

  • Premature delivery because of ruptured membranes
  • Placenta separating from the uterus, also called abruptio placentae
  • Abnormal placenta placement, which can be very dangerous because during delivery the mother is a risk of massive hemorrhaging
  • Lower average birth weight, which is associated with being at greater risk for neonatal, perinatal and infant death
  • Smaller than babies born to nonsmokers
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

How does the Great Start Quitline work?

When a woman calls 1-866-66-START, she is immediately greeted by a friendly voice on the other end of the line. At that point, the smoker can ask for information about quitting or they can immediately get help to quit smoking. She will talk to a trained operator who will help her set a quit date and learn what her triggers are for smoking. She will immediately be sent patient information materials.

Next, the woman can set up an appointment to talk with a counselor. The Great Start Quitline allows for about six to eight separate telephone sessions with the same counselor to discuss all aspects of quitting and to help a woman with her quit attempt. Counseling is provided in both English and in Spanish.

How effective is the Great Start Quitline?

“We’ve had more than 10,000 calls,” Haviland says. “We are now in the process of doing an evaluation, and we’ve called back 1,400 women who’ve used the quitline. We have been told that the women found the counseling to be very helpful, and they have a great deal of confidence in their quitting when they are in the process of talking to their quitline counselors.”

Melvin of Smoke-Free Families adds, “We also need to think about the other family members and whether or not they smoke.” She says it’s important to find out this information because there are not only dangers to the expectant mother but also to her other children and to a newborn that are associated with secondhand smoke. We need to find ways to reduce smoking in the women’s environments and create smoke-free households, Melvin says.

Tips for smokers

Smoke-Free Families provides some key tips for pregnant smokers who want to quit.

  • Be ready to quit:
    • Start by thinking about quitting
    • Set a date to quit
    • Throw away all cigarettes and smoking accessories, including ashtrays and lighters
    • Make your home and your car smoke-free zones
  • Surround yourself with supportive and encouraging people:
    • Tell the people you know — your family, friends and coworkers — that you have decided to quit smoking
    • Ask people to refrain from smoking when you are around
    • Speak with former smokers who also made the decision to quit when they were pregnant
    • Tell your doctor or midwife about your decision to quit smoking
  • Make lifestyle changes:
    • Alter your daily routine
    • Reward yourself by doing something enjoyable each day
    • Practice relaxation techniques
    • Find other ways to distract your mouth, hands and mind when you find yourself desiring a cigarette
    • Remember the important reasons why you decided to quit smoking
  • Realize that you may “slip up”:
    • Even if you have a “slip” and smoke a cigarette, you can still quit again
    • Understand that you only made a mistake, and you can try again
    • Make a new date to quit smoking
    • Remember the important reasons why you decided to quit smoking

According to Melvin, “The biggest tip for helping a pregnant smoker quit is to personalize the counseling she receives so that it takes into account her concerns and issues about quitting and gives her effective ways to deal with those concerns and issues.”