Memo to Brain: Please Operate Above the Level of Australopithecus afarensis!

As a medical oncologist I'm not particularly a fan of cigarette smoking. In fact I have been known to try to coerce people to cease and desist from the smelly habit. Because of the siren song of nicotine and its addictive properties, however, I realize that many smokers are both mentally and physically unable to simply walk away from a luscious pack of cigarettes. Perhaps they lie awake in bed at night, frustrated with their addiction and vowing to throw away the coffin nails for good cometh the dawn. Perhaps they invest in stop-smoking classes, nictotine-replacement products, pills or other methods to help them quit. I guess many of them just can't or won't give up smoking. Surely they would never deliberately expose another person to the toxins of the tobacco leaf just for their own personal gain, would they?

Well now, I wouldn't say that...

"Pregnant girls smoke to have smaller babies, says minister"

Pregnant teenagers are deliberately smoking in the hope of giving birth to smaller babies, making labour less painful, a Government minister [United Kingdom] claimed yesterday. Caroline Flint, the public health minister, said that official warnings about the links between smoking and underweight babies had been understood by prospective teenage mothers. But instead of perceiving smoking as a health risk, many continued to smoke because they thought a smaller baby would reduce labour pains.

This to me, ladies and gentlemen, is not just ignorance in action but a colorful variation of that classic excuse-me-for-living apologia called cognitive dissonance. As repulsive as this story sounds, it may be apocryphal, since the promoter of this theory, Minister Flint, states that "she had heard about the issue anecdotally from health professionals and young women she had met." At least one British obstetrician is quoted in this article claiming that "in her 14-year career she had never met a teenager who smoked in the hope of having a less painful delivery."

Let's hope she's right and that the public health guru is wrong. There are enough examples of utter stupidity bouncing around our modern world without having to worry about pregnant teenagers smoking in order to reduce their labor pains, which by the way doesn't work.

Gail Johnson, who has been a midwife for 20 years, said there was no evidence that having a smaller baby reduced pain in labour. "A small baby is very appealing for some girls who are frightened at the prospect of giving birth," she said. "But what they don't realise is that the stretching sensation is the same regardless of the weight of the baby. "The best way to reduce labour pains is to remain fit and well during pregnancy. Labour is hard work and you need as much energy as possible to cope with it."

Well said. Just in case anyone reading this is a smoker thinking about becoming a mommy, I suggest printing out these stories and taping them to the refrigerator:

"Smoking during pregnancy may boost a woman's chances of having a baby with abnormal fingers and toes."

"Smoking might increase the risk of having a baby with a cleft lip or palate from 1 in 1000 to about 1 in 800."

"Maternal cigarette smoking and prenatal nicotine exposure increase the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 2- to 4-fold, yet despite adverse publicity, nearly one of four pregnant women smoke tobacco."

My, that wasn't very pleasant, was it? Please let me know if I have forgotten any other health risks that prenatal smoking brings to the unborn child, and if you do smoke try this number for help: 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

[Editor's note - not to be critical, but the slacker did leave out a few other health problems associated with parental smoking, such as asthma, lung infections, ear infections, cough, snoring, tonsillitis, sore throat, low birth weight, behavior problems, ADHD, tremors, developmental delays, lower intelligence test scores, poor school performance and smaller head circumference - yikes!]


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How about

'The lower-weight baby will make up in the night more'

Simple enough to understand..

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 05 Oct 2006 #permalink

How about giving birth to an addicted baby that is then forced to go through the withdrawal pains the mother is unwilling to endure? How's that for a great start in life?

Nicotine appears to improve mental functioning. I have often wondered if small amounts could be benefical.

In response to the comment of "I have often wondered if small amounts could be beneficial":

Some research suggests nicotine has some therapeutic uses - such as helping control autosomal dominant frontal lobe epilepsy, and lessening the symptoms of mild to moderate ulcerative colitis. Research is currently being undertaken on nicotine (and its metabolites) for potential treatments of ADHD, Parkinsons and Alzheimers.