Massachusetts South Coast - smoking among pregnant women far surpasses state average..

December 13, 2010 - Most recently available from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.. state's average of 6.9 percent, 15.5 percent of New Bedford women smoked, 18.7 percent Fall River smoked who gave birth in 2008.

"I'm not surprised by that statistic at all," said Dr. Michael Campbell, a family physician at Millview Medical Associates in Fall River, who suspects the true rates are even higher. "You see it all the time."

Experts associate smoking during pregnancy with a slew of dangers, from low birth weight and birth defects to premature deliveries, stillbirths, ectopic pregnancies and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

While not striking a cause-and-effect link, state statistics from 2008 also show New Bedford and Fall River with high rates of smoking-associated perinatal problems. These include low birth weight, with 11.1 and 9.4 percent of babies from mothers in New Bedford and Fall River being born under about 5.5 lbs in 2008, compared to the state average of 7.8 percent. Both cities also had higher rates of infant and neonatal deaths and, while Fall River's rate of premature births fell just below the state's average of 8.8 percent, New Bedford surpassed it at 11 percent.

"About 30 percent of babies that are low birth weight, it is due to tobacco," according to Dr. Joycelyn Vardo of Wareham's Triad Ob-Gyn. "The thought behind that is mostly (a) decrease in oxygenation," she said, both because nicotine can constrict blood vessels and thereby decrease blood flow, and because "carbon monoxide ... binds to the red blood cells more efficiently than oxygen."

Babies of smoking women are more prone to respiratory problems like asthma, Vardo said. And along with a condition called placenta previa, when the placenta covers part or all of the cervix, pregnant women who smoke are more likely to suffer placental abruption, when the placenta separates prematurely from the uterus. While the latter condition can range from mild to severe, Vardo said, "If you lose enough of the placental surface that the pregnancy is affected, you have to deliver the baby."

The Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation & Prevention Program was funded, at its high point, with a budget of $54 million in fiscal year 2000, according to Julia Hurley, a DPH spokeswoman. The program previously provided money to 19 community health centers, including New Bedford's, to help pregnant smokers, she said in an e-mail. The program's now funded at $4.5 million.

Reefrence: Smoking among pregnant women in SouthCoast far surpasses state average by ANIKA CLARK (,, 12/12/2010.

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