Many women quit smoking easily as soon as they discover they are expecting a baby; others unfortunately struggle to quit even though they may want to.
A new program in the Hunter Valley, Australia is attempting to address this issue and is aimed at reducing smoking rates in pregnant Aboriginal women by the use of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). The program also plans to provide Nicotine Replacement free of charge to the families of those seeking to quit smoking, making it a family affair where members can presumably provide support and accountability to each other.
There is no question that an unborn a baby is better off without cigarette smoke and the associated poisons circulating through its little body, but is NRT the answer? Nicotine is a TOXIN… so nicotine cannot be beneficial to a foetus. Admittedly it is likely to be the lesser of two evils but according to Quit Victoria “there is little research on the safety of nicotine replacement products during pregnancy, so its real-life effects have not yet been established”! Furthermore “The safety of nicotine replacement in terms of foetal development and birth outcomes …remains unclear”! You can read the list of possible effects on the Quit Victoria site.
Is the NRT actually effective?
Quit Victoria also tell us that NRT for pregnant women is even less effective than in the general population, has no notable advantage over counselling and behavioural support and in studies had a similar quit rate to participants who had used a placebo (a patch without nicotine) by the end of their pregnancy. The conclusion was that much more research is needed.
Then there is breast feeding; nicotine from cigarettes and NRT products naturally ends up in the mother’s breast milk. While this may be less dangerous than the amount of nicotine from cigarettes, it is far from ideal.
My question is this…why on earth would you take the risk of basically feeding nicotine to a baby when we have the alternatives of hypnosis, counselling and other behavioural supports? It is always better to try these methods first. It would be even better to quit smoking before a pregnancy occurs.
My added concern is that as NRT is to be given prescribed by health professionals, the mothers concerned may erroneously form the idea that it is perfectly safe for their baby. Hopefully the risks will be fully explained before any NRT program is started.
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Meanwhile let us know your thoughts.