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Health Leaders Urge Fetal Tobacco Syndrome Action


Education for Change

Health Leaders Urge Action on Fetal Tobacco Syndrome

Each year more than 18,000 unborn babies are exposed to poisonous tobacco chemicals in the womb, a forum considering the effects of fetal tobacco syndrome heard today. Fetal tobacco syndrome is the term used to describe fetal damage caused by exposure to smoking in pregnancy.

The forum was attended by twenty-five leaders from fertility, midwifery, obstetrics, neonatology, paediatrics, general practice and public health services. It was organised by Education for Change, a Christchurch-based provider of health-funded health education services.

Education for Change director Stephanie Cowan said that the chemicals in tobacco smoke crossed the placenta, damaging it in the process.

“Tobacco-exposed placentas do not work as well as they should, meaning that the baby’s supply of food and oxygen is restricted. As a result the pregnancy may end in miscarriage or stillbirth or the baby may be born early and struggle to survive.”

She said that because tobacco-exposed babies were used to coping with less oxygen in utero, they were at higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and asphyxia once born.

“For example, a tobacco-exposed baby has a blunted arousal or wake-up response. Once born, it may not sense danger if its face becomes covered. It may not seek oxygen as it became used to reduced oxygen in the womb. Whereas a baby not exposed to tobacco during pregnancy will be protected by a normal arousal response and sigh, swallow or turn its head to increase its oxygen supply.”
Stephanie Cowan said the forum was about getting fetal tobacco syndrome out of hiding and taken seriously.

“Fetal tobacco syndrome causes a whole raft of problems – infertility, placental problems, pregnancy complications, intra-uterine growth restriction, preterm births, stillbirths, sudden infant death syndrome, bronchioloitis, asthma, glue ear, hospital admission, learning and behavioural difficulties and more.

“It is the main preventable cause of adverse outcomes for pregnancy and child health. Despite this, it is treated more as a social issue than a health one, by parents and health professionals alike.”

She said that following the forum, Education for Change and health groups would focus on raising awareness of fetal tobacco syndrome and supporting parents to be smokefree.

“This forum is only the first step. We want to see fetal tobacco syndrome having a profile to match its place as the number one way to protect the life and health of children, with associated increased resourcing. ”


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