Stress Makes it Hard to Quit Smoking After Pregnancy

Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More

The majority of women quit smoking during pregnancy in order...

The majority of women quit smoking during pregnancy in order to protect their developing baby. However, new research shows that as many as 90 percent go back to smoking after the baby is born. The main reason? Stress.

But everyone is stressed, right? Why should mothers of young children relapse into the cigarette habit, especially when they should be concerned about exposing their newborn child to the dangers associated with secondhand smoke? The simple fact is that quitting smoking is more complicated than simply deciding to abstain.

Unique Stressors for New Mothers

Many new mothers often feel lonely and disengaged? Adult contact can be scarce for some new mothers, especially if they are on maternity leave for an extended period of time or have decided to stop working to care for their child. Another source of stress is fatigue. Multiple late night feedings and diaper changes lead to disrupted sleep and perpetual fatigue. Numerous studies have shown that anyone who is sleep-deprived (mother or not) has a much lower ability to be resilient under stress. This lack of sleep can also carve away at a woman’s ability to cope with persistent crying. If a child is continually distressed and is crying throughout the day or night, this can trigger a whole range of emotion from anger to despair.

One of the most important findings that emerged from recent research on stress and post-pregnancy smoking was how many women stopped smoking for their baby’s health, but not for themselves. This is a significant cause of relapse because many of the new mothers did not internalize the long-term health benefits of their own health as a motivation for quitting. When they had a return of strong cravings for nicotine after delivery, they rationalized that is was okay to begin smoking again if they tried to keep secondhand smoke away from their child.

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What Helps Mothers Remain Cigarette-Free?

It was almost impossible for women to kick the habit if their partners continued to smoke, but it helped considerably if their partners quit smoking at pregnancy or altered their smoking habits Partners who were generally supportive of the mother’s efforts to quit smoking also fared much better than those who did not have supportive partners. Mothers who succesfully quit smoking also cited support from people who helped with childcare responsibilities and encouragement from health professionals as some of the factors that helped them remain smoke-free.

Takeaways From the Study

This is important information for not only new mothers, but for anyone concerned about the health of children. A healthy mother who understands sound child development gives their child the best start at life. But many women, especially young mothers, don’t have the emotional or physical maturity to understand what good self-care entails. If they can’t practice consistent self-care, how can they do that for their child?

Prenatal courses can be highly beneficial because they cover the basics of child development in the first year of life, as well as focus on how personal self-care and care of the newborn are intricately linked. As parents connect with their child emotionally, this would create an even greater internal incentive to resist self-destructive behaviors, like smoking or drug use. Early child development education on this level would enable more new mothers to give their children the start in life they deserve.


Image Courtesy of iStock

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