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Should All Pregnant Women Be Tested For Smoking?

By ceridwen |

In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is recommending that all pregnant women be tested to see if they are smoking. If it appears the woman is smoking, she’ll be given support and guidance to help her quit. Testing would be mandatory at the first prenatal check-up.

My first reaction is: absolutely not! You cannot start out the journey of pregnancy and becoming a mother with a message that mom is basically not to be trusted. Why can’t doctors and midwives ask mom about smoking? And say, in a nonjudgmental way:  This is often hard for women to talk about as quitting smoking is not easy…We understand completely so if you are smoking and you’d like help, come to us… We have experience and we might make the process of a quitting a little less stressful for you. Etc.

My second thought was, Wow, I’d like to hear what Elisabeth Badinter, the chain-smoking, best-selling, anti-breastfeeding French feminist author would have to say about this! She thinks there’s too much pressure on moms to be perfect as is. Add mandatory cigarette testing, whew… She’s going to hit the roof.

But as I read more about the recommendation I warmed to the idea. First of all, it’s a carbon monoxide test. And, if framed in a nonjudgmental way, could possibly benefit expecting moms.  Those advocating for the testing, have this to say:

“One of our recommendations is for midwives to encourage all pregnant women to have their carbon monoxide levels tested and discuss the results with them… This isn’t to penalise them if they have been smoking, but instead will be a useful way to show women that both smoking and passive smoking can lead to having high levels of carbon monoxide in their systems.”

I would actually be interested in this mandatory test for reasons outside of smoking habits among the gestating. What would the test results be for those women who live in extremely polluted areas? I live in New York City near Broadway which has 8 lanes of traffic rolling and spewing VISIBLE carbon monoxide all day and night. During my pregnancies I would sometime hold my breath and dart across the street or walk home in round-about ways to avoid getting shot in the face with a bus-load of exhaust.

Studies have literally been done near where I live and it’s not pretty. People say I am essentially smoking a pack a day just for breathing the air on my block. The other day I heard that just living in Bejing is the equivalent of smoking 8 packs a day!

I’m curious to know if mandatory carbon monoxide testing of pregnant women would help us better understand the health of non-smokers, too. Not that everyone will stop driving. Talk about something hard to quit.

What do you think? If your doc or midwife asked you to blow into a bag b/c it’s required by law would, how would you feel?

Photo: Polina Sergeeva/Flickr

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About ceridwen



Ceridwen Morris is a writer, mother, and certified childbirth educator. She is the author of several books and screenplays, including (Three Rivers; 2007). She serves on the board of The Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York and teaches at Tribeca Parenting in New York City. Read bio and latest posts → Read Ceridwen's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Should All Pregnant Women Be Tested For Smoking?

  1. mightydoll says:

    I think there’s a line between offering tests, and requiring them. I don’t think any tests should be legally required in pregnancy. I haven’t seen any compelling reasons to change that stance.

  2. Graf says:

    I agree with Mightydoll.

  3. [...] United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence wants to test all pregnant women to see if they’ve been smoking. Any woman who tests positive for smoking will be offered help and counseling on how to [...]

  4. expecting#2 says:

    i think its a great idea! they want to test you for everything else, why not this too? they should also test foe drugs, and alcohol. Im all for it.

  5. GingersUnited says:

    I’m curious what a test like this costs. While it may sound very cold to consider costs when your baby’s health is the issue, as a pregnant woman, I feel like the cost to have a baby is a bit out of control. I quite smoking as soon as I learned I was pregnant and live in a rural area. It seems like a waste of resources to have women like me be required to take this test. Make it available, sure. Require it, seems excessive.

  6. C-Mom says:

    No way! This is an essential invasion of privacy and a good way to make money for the testers, not to make a difference for excited or nervous expectant mothers. If you have an option, great–mandatory? No. If you want information, conduct a valid research study. (from a life-long, avid non-smoker, mother of one)

  7. Green Eyes says:

    While I would be pissed if someone was forcing me to take the test I would also volunteer to take it in an instant. Like you I like in an area with abysmal air quality and would be interested to see how it compared with women who smoke regularly.

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