CHARLES GRAHAM - What a terrible start in life for a baby

Pregnant woman smoking
Pregnant woman smoking
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IF pressed to name something that really turns my stomach I think the sight of a heavily pregnant woman smoking would come near the top of my list.

I vividly recall those days of visiting Billinge Hospital for the birth of my children and each time I went (and given the medical troubles we had it was a lot), I was greeted by the same horrible scene.

Women outside the sliding front doors in their towelling robes, bellies protruding and plumes of smoke billowing from their mouths.

If ever there was a living symbol of putting a child at a health disadvantage before it was even born this was it. I always wondered how many of them were feeling ashamed each time they took a puff.

It has been pleasing to see in the intervening years that progress has been made in getting local folk off the deadly weed and the number of smokers is itself in decline.

So it came as a nasty shock to read a colleague’s article the other day which shows that one in five women in the borough still admit to fagging it during pregnancy (perhaps the real number is even higher).

This despite their increasing the chance of having a baby with a low birth weight which is one of the main causes of child illness and disability, and also increasing the risk of a baby being stillborn.

Doctors say that smoking in pregnancy heightens the risk of cot death by four times if you have between one and nine cigarettes a day. And this rises to an eight times higher risk if you smoke 20 or more a day.

Furthermore it may affect the child’s mental development and behaviour, leading to a short attention span and hyperactivity. A baby may also be more prone to certain birth defects. There’s a strong link between smoking in pregnancy and babies born with a cleft lip or palate for instance.

I won’t bang on about the impact of tobacco on the addict, nor of the effects on children of passive smoking.

There are already plenty enough reasons above for folk who choose to ignore the warnings to feel guilty about their lack of willpower or even reckless selfishness.