A GROUP of leading experts are calling for pregnant smokers to seek help and quit to protect their health and the health of their unborn baby in light of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) say women who smoke during their pregnancies should be supported to give up, particularly during the pandemic.
Although current evidence has shown that pregnant women with no underlying conditions are not more likely to develop coronavirus, or be more adversely affected than other healthy young adults if they are infected, smokers are known to respond poorly to the respiratory condition.
Smokers are at substantially increased risk of suffering more serious complications if they develop Covid-19 because smoking weakens their lung defences, with emerging evidence from China showing that they are 14 times more likely to develop severe respiratory disease.
Smoking during pregnancy can also lead to greater risk of serious complications, such as miscarriage and stillbirth, putting the health of women and their babies at risk.
Across Wales, 16% of pregnant women smoke. Smoking prevalence is highest among pregnant teenagers with 30% of pregnant 16 to 19-year-old’s smoking at the time of their baby’s birth and 33% at their initial assessment.
A RCOG spokesperson said: “It is especially important that women do not smoke in pregnancy during the current coronavirus pandemic, with the respiratory disease known to affect smokers more significantly than non- smokers.
“Pregnancy places more physical demands on a woman’s body and though current evidence suggests that pregnant women without underlying conditions are not at an increased risk of contracting the virus, or being more adversely affected by it than other healthy adults, smoking makes them more vulnerable to the severe effects of coronavirus.
“The RCOG cannot emphasise highly enough how important it is that women are supported to stop smoking during pregnancy to protect both their own health and that of their baby. Smoking is known to have a catalogue of adverse effects on mother and baby including an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and fetal growth restriction.”
Pregnant smokers in Wales are advised to seek help to quit from their midwife, obstetrician or GP and to continue to attend all available antenatal appointments.
The RCOG spokesperson continued: “Women who are looking for help to stop smoking should speak to their midwife, obstetrician or GP, all of whom will be able to signpost her to extra resources to help protect the health of both herself and her unborn baby. The RCOG also has a patient information resource on cessation of smoking during pregnancy, which includes lots of detail about the risks involved and the pathways available to women.”
Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales said: “We know that all smokers are at increased risk of suffering serious complications from Covid-19 and that is more important now than ever for them to urgently quit the habit.
“For pregnant women, who are a vulnerable high-risk group, smoking already poses the threat of devastating health consequences and as Covid-19 continues to spread, there is now even more reason for them to give up.
“However, we must not forget that smoking is not a lifestyle choice, it is a powerful addiction and would urge all pregnant women to seek the support and advice of their midwife, their family and friends to quit now.”
She went on to say that any smokers who share a household with a pregnant woman should also consider quitting to reduce the risks posed by second-hand smoke.
“Second hand smoke poses serious health risks, with the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke lingering in the home for up to 5 hours after a cigarette has been stubbed out.
“With families spending more of their time indoors under lockdown, smokers who live with pregnant women should seriously consider quitting for their sake if not to reduce their own risks from Covid-19.”
Re-iterating the measures that pregnant women have been advised to take during the Covid-19 pandemic, the RCOG spokesperson said: “Pregnant women have been put into the vulnerable group and should reduce social contact where possible. Where pregnant women can work from home, they should do so.
“There is currently no evidence to suggest that pregnant women are at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they develop coronavirus, than other healthy individuals.
“It is important to note these special measures for pregnant women do not mean self-isolation unless they are showing symptoms. Pregnant women are still able to do things that are necessary in daily life, such as taking daily exercise outside, getting food shopping or attending work if an essential worker. It is very important that pregnant women continue to attend antenatal appointments which are essential to ensure her and her baby’s wellbeing.”
At the end of March, the Government announced additional ‘shielding’ measures for people thought to be at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus, this included pregnant women with significant heart disease (congenital or acquired).
These women were advised not to leave the house and avoid face-to-face contact where possible for at least 12 weeks. A letter was sent by the Government to those advised to shield with further information.
Anyone who wants help to stop smoking in Wales can call NHS Wales Help Me Quit on 0800 085 2219 or visit helpmequit.wales.
There are online forums for people to support each other whilst quitting smoking such as Quit Smoking Wales. Advice can also be provided by pharmacies, however it is advised to call before visiting as pharmacies are extremely busy at this time.
For more information on quitting smoking in pregnancy visit the RCOG website https://www.rcog.org.uk.