Mayo study advises pregnant smokers use patch instead of cigarettes
A new study suggests that it may be safer for pregnant smokers to use the nicotine patch than it is to keep smoking.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found that the patch exposed mothers-to-be to about the same levels of nicotine as a cigarette during the first few days of treatment. But because it doesn't contain other toxic ingredients, it is believed to pose less of a threat to the fetus.
"This is an option we feel confident recommending to pregnant women who are smoking and are unable to stop," said Dr. Paul Ogburn, a Mayo obstetrician-gynecologist and the study's lead author.
Doctors have been cautious about recommending the patch for pregnant women, because it delivers nicotine -- a known danger to fetuses and newborns -- through the skin. At the same time, maternal smoking can cause fetal complications, premature births, and even death in newborns.
Ogburn said the patch delivers nicotine more steadily than cigarettes, resulting in "less distress for the fetus." And unlike cigarettes, the patch doesn't expose the fetus to carbon monoxide and other toxins.
The scientists followed 21 women during the second half of pregnancy, and measured the levels of nicotine and other substances in their bloodstreams after treatment.
Ogburn said most of the women succeeded in quitting smoking, at least until their babies were born. But almost all of them picked up the habit again within a year.
Still, he said, "maybe that's enough of a success to say it's worthwhile."
The report only focused on the first four days of treatment, when the nicotine levels are the highest.
Ogburn said he wouldn't advise patients to use the patch as a first choice. "Stop smoking if you can. If you can't stop smoking, find someone who can help you stop smoking. And if they suggest using the nicotine patch, [you'll know that] it probably will be safe."
The study was published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Ogburn said he and his colleagues hope to publish a more comprehensive report later.