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Malawi: Smoking – Pregnant Women At Risk of Delivering Stillbirths, Miscarriage and Premature Birth

A study has established that pregnant women who smoke (tobacco) are at greater risk of delivering stillbirths, premature births and/or miscarriage while passive smokers (exposure of the non-smoking mother to second-hand smoke) also run the risk of harming the foetus.

Kenyan Consultant Paediatrician, Epidemiologist and Researcher, Dr. Michael Kariuki, made the revelation at the Third Edition of Harm Reduction Exchange in Nairobi, Kenya, on October 19, 2023.

The conference was held under the theme: “Amplifying the Voice of Harm Reduction Advocacy Across Africa” and it attracted participants from many African countries, including Togo, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Botswana, eSwatini and Kenya, as host, among others.

Kariuki said 53 percent of women who smoke daily continue to smoke daily during pregnancy, adding that their desire to stop encounters barriers such as continued smoking among social networks, lack of access to quit-smoking services, emotional stress (e.g. intimate partner violence), pregnancy-related depression and increased metabolism of nicotine during pregnancy, may not allow smoking cessation to be achieved in all pregnant women who smoke.

Kariuki, who is also the founding member of the Harm Reduction Society of Kenya, warned that smoking mothers run the risk of causing ear infections, respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis, increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), among others in their child.

On the effects of smoking on babies, the paediatrician said tobacco smoke exposure increases asthma prevalence and severity and it increases the risk of the baby being overweight in childhood.

“Tobacco smoke exposure increases the risk of learning and neurobehavioral problems. Tobacco smoke exposure in children leads to findings of preclinical atherosclerosis. Tobacco smoke exposure increases the risk of childhood cancers,” he said.

Kariuki advised pregnant women to switch to non-combustible nicotine sources such as NRT to reduce smoking-related harm.

He cited the United Kingdom (UK) Stop Smoking Services, which do not discourage the use of e-cigarettes during pregnancy and promotes them as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco.

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