Heavily pregnant women in Macarthur and the rest of Sydney’s south west light up more than any other expectant mothers in Sydney.
A recently released NSW Health report showed that in 2016, almost one in 10 pregnant women in the South Western Sydney Local Health District smoked during the second half of their pregnancy.
Campbelltown paediatrician and former Macquarie Fields MP Dr Andrew McDonald said the statistics highlighted in the NSW Mothers and Babies 2016 report were serious.
“If the smoking rate in pregnant women was zero per cent, we could close half of the paediatric wards in Sydney,” he said.
“The most common cause of admission to hospital in the first year after birth, is respiratory illness, which has a high correlation with mothers who smoke. The second most common cause is gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines) – which also a high correlation with mothers who smoke.”
Dr McDonald said the breastfeeding success rate of mothers who lit up while pregnant was also lower.
While breastfeeding didn’t completely protect babies from disease, it did help reduce the severity of the illness.
However, Dr McDonald said it wasn’t a case of pointing the finger and judging mothers who who lit up.
“Nicotine is more addictive than heroin, so it’s not as if they choose to smoke (while pregnant),” he said.
“Most mothers who smoke take it up in year 10 – when they are 16. If they aren’t smoking by the time they leave school they are unlikely to take it up.
“But reports like this help because they raise the issue.”
One of the positives of the report was that it showed rates were declining.
Across the state, the rate had dropped from 10.4 per cent to 8.3 per cent in four years.
Dr McDonald said initiatives like plain packaging for cigarettes had helped to reduce that number and had “recognised (tobacco) companies for what they actually are – companies who market predatory products to vulnerable people”.
“They number of people who smoke in Macarthur is nowhere near what it was compared to 20 years ago,” he said.
“This report shows we are making progress but we still have more to do.”