More than seven percent of women who gave birth in 2016 smoked during pregnancy, according to a new report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

By Maressa Brown
February 28, 2018
pregnant woman in striped shirt smoking
Credit: Shutterstock

There's a whole slew of unhealthy habits that doctors encourage pregnant women to kick, and smoking cigarettes is chief among them. Yet, according to a new report released Wednesday, February 28, about one in 14 pregnant women—or 7.2%—who gave birth in 2016 in the U.S. smoked cigarettes during her pregnancy. The data was gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

Patrick Drake, senior author of the report and a demographer at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, noted, "These levels do vary widely by state, maternal age, race and Hispanic origin, and education, but any amount of smoking during pregnancy is too much."

The highest percentage was in West Virginia where 25.1% of women reported smoking at any time during pregnancy. The percentage came out of California where 1.6% reported smoking.

That said, one of the main limitations of the report was that researchers asked women to self-report. So, since most women might be less likely to admit that they smoked cigarettes while pregnant, the prevalence of smoking could be under-reported, said Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, professor and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Southwestern's William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital.

The CDC points out that smoking during pregnancy can put an infant at risk for certain birth defects, premature birth, low birth weight, and even stillbirth or sudden infant death syndrome.

Given the concerning new stats, experts are advocating for raising awareness. Dr. Haywood Brown, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the new report, told CNN, "We still need very aggressive education campaigns in high-smoking-prevalence states, particularly in where there's rural access-to-care issues. We still have a serious issue with infant mortality—prematurity and infant mortality are clearly linked to cigarette smoking, as is low birth weight—and when you begin to explain these things to patients, it really does appear to make a difference to them."

Of course, there's also the fact that even if women know they need to address a nicotine addiction, they may experience difficulty quitting and require more support to do that. With hope, this report motivates expectant moms to seek that support and health care providers to be even more conscious of the need for it.