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Stress Can Trigger Smoking Relapse After Childbirth

Stress Can Trigger Smoking Relapse After Childbirth

New moms who had quit smoking during pregnancy are more likely to start smoking again if they are under a lot of stress, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA), U.K.

The research, which involved interviews with more than 1,000 new mothers, showed that the stress of caring for a newborn, sleepless nights, social pressure, and the idea that they no longer need to protect the baby all contribute to smoking relapse.

New moms who feel supported by a partner, however, are less likely to start smoking again.

“More women quit smoking during pregnancy than at any other time, but as many as 90 percent start again within a year of their baby being born. This is particularly true among women in lower socioeconomic groups,” said lead researcher Dr. Caitlin Notley from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.

“We found that many women see smoking as a way a coping with stress. They also believe that physiological changes influence cigarette cravings, and that they no longer need to protect the baby from smoking’s harmful effects.”

For the study, the researchers set out to discover what factors influence women to start smoking again after childbirth, as well as what things make it easier or more difficult to stay smoke free.

“One of the most striking things that we found is that women’s beliefs about smoking are a major barrier to remaining smoke-free. Many felt that smoking after the birth of their child was acceptable provided they protected their babies from secondhand smoke,” said Notley.

“Their focus is, admirably, on the health of the baby, but they often do not think about the long-term health consequences for themselves as mothers.”

“We also found that women who saw smoking as a way of coping with stress were more likely to relapse. And that feeling low, lonely, tired, and coping with things like persistent crying were also triggers. Women reported that cravings for nicotine, which had lessened or stopped during pregnancy, returned,” she added.

Supportive partners were cited as key to remaining smoke-free, along with personal praise from health professionals.

“The majority of women who had successfully remained smoke free said that the support of their partner was a strong factor. Partners who gave up smoking, or altered their own smoking behaviors, were a particularly good influence. And those who helped ease the stress of childcare were also praised by women who had resisted the urge to light up,” said Notley.

The research team also found that women’s concept of their own identity was an important factor, with many new moms seeing smoking as a way of rekindling a sense of themselves as individuals.

“In order for women to continue their lives smoke free after pregnancy, we need to see a cultural shift where women feel more motivated to remain abstinent, and where they feel more comfortable with the change of identity that motherhood brings,” said Notley. “Support from partners is vital, but support from health professionals can be very important as well.”

The findings are published in the journal Addiction.

Source: University of East Anglia


Stress Can Trigger Smoking Relapse After Childbirth

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Stress Can Trigger Smoking Relapse After Childbirth. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Sep 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.