A pregnant islander who has smoked since age 11 has candidly shared her struggle with quitting in a bid to encourage other mums-to-be to do the same.
One in 10 UK women smoke while pregnant, while Jersey data shows that nearly two fifths of those expecting are still smoking at the time of their first pregnancy check-up.
The 2017 Smoking Profile also shows that one in six of all Jersey babies born last year were at risk of passive smoking at six to eight weeks old.
But Nikita Livingston, who is sharing her story as part of the anti-smoking ‘Stoptober’ campaign, didn’t want to become one of those statistics when she found out she was to become a mother 12 weeks ago.
Pictured: Ms Livingston hasn't smoked in 10 weeks.
Having smoked up to 60 cigarettes a week, the local bank manager decided that habit needed to stop, but knew she couldn’t do it alone.
“I have struggled to quit before so I rang Help2Quit the day I learned I was pregnant. They called me back the day after and I was able to see someone the same day. They sat me down and went through the options. They knew I wanted to stop smoking the following day and had me in that day to give me a boost,” she told Express.
The Help2Quit programme involves specialist guidance and treatments for smokers keen to drop the habit, as well as non-judgmental emotional support. “It’s nice having someone to vent to, I can whinge and moan as I wish. It’s like a support network and it really helps speaking to the practitioners,” Ms Livingston explained.
Pictured: Ms Livingston's partner has also stopped smoking.
But even with the support, including that of her partner who is also quitting smoking, which statistics say should increase her chance of stopping for good by as much as 67%, it hasn’t been easy. “It has been really difficult. The first two weeks were very difficult,” she says, candidly admitting that she “fell off the wagon” during that time by having one or two cigarettes.
She was helped through this period, however, with extra guidance and the use of nicotine gums and sprays, as well as patches. It has now been 10 weeks since she touched a cigarette and she is determined not to start again, even when the baby is born.
One of the most important factors in encouraging her to stay on track was a carbon monoxide test, which helped her realise the impact smoking could have on her baby. Produced by tobacco products and cars, the gas is colourless and scentless, meaning that many people don’t know about its toxic effects.
Pictured: All pregnant women will soon receive a carbon monoxyde test.
She explained: "As much as you hear the bad stories and what happened to babies of mums who smoke, the breathalyser, which is your reading and the baby's, it really shows you. You see how dangerously high the level is. It really made me stop and think.
"Doctors explain to you what carbon monoxide can do to your baby, but seeing how much there is, it's a real moment. When you know it's your own baby, it makes it real."
The test will soon be offered to all pregnant women, whether they smoke or not, on a voluntary basis. Jersey’s midwives will receive training on how to carry out the carbon monoxide test, which requires the mum to breathe into a small, hand-held device, and provide feedback to pregnant women on their result. This will help identify pregnant women and their unborn babies who may be at risk from the harmful gas. Women who smoke or have high readings will be referred to the Help2Quit specialist nurses for additional support – something vital as it can be harder for pregnant women to quit because the body reacts differently to nicotine.
Pictured: Local statistics also show that 1 in 6 of all babies born in 2017 were at risk of passive smoking at 6-8 weeks of age
“Exposure to carbon monoxide during pregnancy is harmful as it can reduce the amount of oxygen the growing baby receives and can be detrimental to the health and development of the baby and the pregnant woman,” Julie Mycock, Head of Midwifery, commented.
“We want to offer testing to all expectant mums so we can offer them the very best care for their babies all the way through a pregnancy. It’s important to emphasise that if a woman does smoke, we are not judging her, we just want to help and give her all the support she needs so she can be supported to give up smoking and have the very best result for her and her baby.”
Ms Livingston says that she now has “more determination now than I ever had.”
Pictured: Quitting is hard but Ms Livingston is encouraging islanders to keep trying.
“I tried to give up in the past but only lasted six weeks. Life works in a such a way that if something annoys you, you revert back to your habits. But I have a very good excuse to stop now. I don’t want to harm the baby. I would like to think that I won’t smoke ever again. Being pregnant was the main reason I stopped but having a child will be another very good reason not to start again. I don’t want my child to see me smoke and think it is ok.”
While quitting is difficult, Ms Livingston is encouraging others to keep trying. “People can’t make you stop. You have to really want it, for your own reasons, for your own health. You have to really try.”
“If you have a cigarette, it’s not the end of the world,” she adds. “Don’t think like people on a diet, ‘I just had a cake so I might as well have 20.’ Move on and continue. Take every day as it comes and keep trying.
“The only thing you can do is try.”
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