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Health & Pregnancy

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About 20% of White Women Smoke While Pregnant

Hispanic Moms Least Likely to Smoke, Drink, or Use Drugs, Report Finds
By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 10, 2012 -- White women who are pregnant are more likely to smoke cigarettes than African-American or Hispanic mothers-to-be, a new government report shows.

The study found that pregnant white women had high rates of cigarette smoking at 21.8% compared with 14.2% among African-American women and 6.5% among Hispanic women.

The report, which was done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, did not include how much or how often the women smoked.

Research has shown that babies born to moms who smoke in pregnancy are more likely to be born prematurely, have birth defects, and/or have a low birth weight. Nicotine and other chemicals can get passed along to the growing fetus and cause harm. Smoking also raises a woman's odds for miscarriage or stillbirth.

The report looked at data gathered from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2002 and 2010. In this yearly survey, researchers interviewed more than 67,000 people across the United States.

To find out how much substance abuse occurred during pregnancy over an eight-year period, researchers asked the pregnant women, aged 15 to 44, if they had smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, or used an illegal drug during the past 30 days.

Risks of Alcohol and Drug Use

According to the new study, levels of self-reported alcohol use were fairly similar between pregnant white women (12.2%) and pregnant African-American women (12.8%). Hispanic women had the lowest rates of alcohol use during pregnancy at 7.4%.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases a mother's risk for miscarriage and premature birth. Heavy drinking can also lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which can slow a baby's growth and cause physical and mental problems.

Over an eight-year period, African-American women were found to have the highest rates of illegal drug use during pregnancy at 7.7%, followed by 4.4% in white women. Hispanic women had the lowest rates of drug use at 3.1%.

Using illegal drugs while carrying a child increases the chance of birth defects, premature and underweight babies, and stillborn births.

"When pregnant women use alcohol, tobacco, or illicit substances, they are risking health problems for themselves and poor birth outcomes for their babies," Administrator Pamela S. Hyde of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says in a news release.

Since different races and ethnic groups vary in their patterns of substance abuse, "It is essential that we use the findings from this report to develop better ways of getting this message out to every segment of our community," Hyde says.

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