In Ohio, and other states throughout the country, there is an effort to enhance infant vitality and maternal health outcomes. Although rates of infant mortality in Ohio dropped from 2019 to 2020, the current overall rate of 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births; 13.6 deaths per 1,000 live births for Black infants in Ohio suggests that there are still far too many infant deaths in our state1. There are multifaceted and complex factors that contribute to these statistics, including drivers of health inequity (e.g., racism, implicit bias, poverty), which we cannot ignore if we are going to positively impact the outcomes. While we work to address these issues on a systemic level, we know that on an individual level, helping those who are pregnant or postpartum to quit nicotine can have a positive impact on infant vitality.

While many women and birthing people attempt to quit during pregnancy, statistics show that smoking during pregnancy is not uncommon. The National Vital Statistics System showed that in 2016 about 7.2% of women who gave birth reported smoking during pregnancy. Smoking was most common amongst American Indian and Alaska natives and women ages 20-242. Quitting nicotine during pregnancy may seem intuitive, because of the health benefits for mom and baby. However, we know that systemic health inequities and pregnancy-related stressors may make it difficult for those who use nicotine to quit, especially if their use is triggered by toxic stressors. It is imperative that we find ways to support those who are pregnant in their health goals, and address health care inequities that contribute to their overall wellbeing. In today’s edition, we offer suggestions to those who are trying to quit. In future newsletters, we will discuss systemic and provider-related strategies for improving infant vitality.

So, what are some ways for you to better manage your stress if you are pregnant while trying to quit?

  • Practice deep breathing. Diaphragmatic or deep breathing gives you time to pause and regulate your emotional state in a moment of stress.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Sometimes we take on more than we can handle and need to practice saying “no” or “not right now” to improve our stress level.
  • Increase your activity. The natural hormones released from exercise or activity can help counteract the effects of cumulative stress.
  • Find a trusted, culturally aware provider to support you during your health journey. For people who are pregnant, having a safe environment where you feel seen and heard can make the difference in your care experience. Working with providers you trust and feel safe with is essential for discussing challenges, including nicotine cessation, and getting the support you need to quit.
  • Join our Infant Vitality Program. We will help you to better understand the risks of smoking to you and your baby and help you with strategies for quitting.
  • Join a free support group. The Perinatal Outreach and Engagement for Moms (POEM) Program in central Ohio has support groups for mothers and birthing people that are led by peer facilitators. These groups can help with developing healthy new coping strategies and knowing you are not alone in your struggles.
  • Initiate therapy. Sometimes unmanaged anxiety and depressive symptoms may make it more difficult to manage stress. Find a qualified, culturally aware therapist to help you navigate life stressors that make it challenging for you to quit.

The risks of smoking and using nicotine are too great for you, and for your baby. Be a quitter for you and for your baby. You are both worth the effort.