Healthcare Tips

USA: Pregnant Smokers May Suffer Depression

November 06, 2017

New research suggests that whilst more than one in 10 pregnant women smoke many may also suffer from depression, which makes giving up smoking even harder.

The emerging science suggests that messages such as "give up for your baby" are too simplistic for many women and prenatal checkups should include screening pregnant smokers for mental health disorders that require care.

Dr. Jan Blalock of the University of Texas which has begun a first-of-a-kind study, Project Baby Steps to test whether non-drug depression therapy helps pregnant smokers quit said: "These ladies all know, I promise you, about the health risks. We should at least understand more about why these ladies don't give up. We should be looking more carefully instead of just saying this is a group of hardcore smokers."

Nearly 45 million Americans, or one in five adults, smoke. Giving up takes on average three to five attempts, and scientists know it's harder if the smoker has depression or anxiety disorders.

Recently researchers have begun to focus on why, despite the enormous stigma, so many pregnant smokers don't give up.

Dr. Renee Goodwin, a Columbia University epidemiologist, tracked more than 1,500 pregnant women who took part in a larger study of Americans' health. A surprising 22 percent smoked at some point during pregnancy, and about 12 percent were classified as nicotine dependent.

The study found that 30 percent of the smokers had a mental health disorder, as did more than half who were nicotine addicted and the vast majority suffered depression. The smokers were about three times as likely to have a disorder as pregnant nonsmokers, Goodwin recently reported in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke can act in the brain like weak antidepressants, says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

It can be hard for the depressed to realise when they need help. And chances of relapse increases feelings of sadness, lethargy or other depression symptoms, Dr Volkow explained.

"There is a lot of social disdain for pregnant smokers." adds Columbia's Goodwin.