Despite the well-known health risks associated with smoking – particularly during pregnancy – thousands of expectant mothers still choose to put theirs, and their unborn child’s health at risk.
Currently around one in eight women smoke during pregnancy, and significantly the majority of these women tend to be from deprived backgrounds.
Research shows that in areas of poverty and inequality, one in four pregnant women smoke, while in areas of low deprivation only one in 200 do.
In an attempt to find a solution to this problem, researchers from the University of Cambridge launched an experiment, which was based in Chesterfield, Derbyshire – an area of high deprivation.
The experiment involved 239 pregnant women attending antenatal clinics, who were given shopping vouchers if they could prove they had not been smoking.
Those who had not smoked received an £8 voucher, and this was increased by £1 for each subsequent visit.
Overall, 143 women received at least one voucher, while one in five went on to quit smoking altogether by the time they gave birth. Furthermore, 4% of the women continued to refrain from smoking six months after the birth of their child.
Study leader, professor Theresa Marteau from Cambridge’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit said:
“Offering financial incentives clearly works for some women – with very few ‘gaming’ the system and a significant number stopping smoking at least for the duration of their pregnancy.”
In total, £37,490 was spent on the financial incentive making it a cost effective way to improve the health of pregnant women and their future children.
The benefits of stopping smoking during pregnancy can be immediate and research shows giving up completely can reduce morning sickness and the likelihood of developing potentially fatal complications.
Non-smoking expectant mothers are also more likely to give birth to babies that are of a healthy weight, which will prevent problems during and after labour.