A new study has found that because of the stigma around smoking and drinking during pregnancy, many women are doing these in private.
Researchers from the University of Cardiff have noted that pregnant women are “irritated and alienated” by the perceived notions regarding the harmful effects of smoking and drinking during pregnancy. Recent figures have shown that one in five women from Wales smoke during their first pregnancy.
This new study published in the journal Women and Birth reveals that women feel they receive health advice in a “judgemental tone” from their antenatal healthcare providers and midwives that make them reluctant to open up for advice and support during pregnancy regarding smoking and drinking. Some of the pregnant also reported feeling judged by their non-smoking partners.
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A significant number of women who were smokers or non-smokers agreed that smoking during pregnancy is acceptable if in private. They however condoned smoking in public. They felt that pregnant women who smoke in public receive a lot of negative judgement and criticism from those around them. E-cigarette smokers too felt judged, the study found.
For this study the team of researchers interviewed 10 low income pregnant women belonging to deprived areas of south Wales. They were provided visual questionnaires and clues like timelines, collages and thought bubbles related activities.
Dr Aimee Grant, from Cardiff University's Centre for Trials Research, in a statement said, “Moral judgements are commonly directed towards mothers through reference to health behaviour in pregnancy, and working-class mothers are particularly subject to this criticism, ignoring the challenges of living on a low income. 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. No one wants to be judged and shamed.” The authors of this study called for more “empathy” than judgement.
The health advocates worldwide advice pregnant women to abstain from alcohol and smoking tobacco. There are over 4,000 chemicals present in cigarette smoke that can harm the unborn baby and also reduce the oxygen supply. The Chief Medical Officers for the UK makes similar recommendations for pregnant women. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) also added that there are no safe alcohol consumption limits during pregnancy.
Dr Dunla Gallagher, one of the co-authors of the study says that smoking could be a “coping strategy” for some of the low-income, pregnant mothers. She said in a statement, “Rather than stigma, women need empathy and a recognition of the challenges that pregnancy can bring in terms of women's independent choices.”