Smoking for two
The lovely Lauren Booth, six-and-a-half months pregnant and resplendent in Schiaparelli pink, graced the "personal viewpoint" pages of the Sunday Express magazine this week. A full-page portrait opposite a punchy think piece. Nothing unusual about that -
The tone of Booth's piece was, of course, defiant. Women always used to smoke while pregnant - they say it did their children no harm. She smokes barely half a dozen a week - hardly a hanging offence. In fact, she said, her midwife was surprisingly sanguine about it, telling her: "Oh don't worry too much, it's the heavy smokers we worry about." Lauren told how the kind of men who wouldn't give up their seat on the Tube for her would berate her about the "fag" in her mouth. All interesting points.
Yet how profoundly shocking that picture was! And the headline -"Puff Mummy" - golly! What will wild Lauren (she also admits to the odd glass of wine) be up to next?
Which is curious really, because a lot of pregnant women smoke in this country: around one in four of them. That's 150,000 women a year . These women continue to do so in the face of campaign after campaign on the evils of smoking. They will tell you that they are addicted; that smoking is one of their greatest pleasures; that they simply do not believe that the odd fag can really do that much damage to their child; that they have cut down, they are making an effort, at least; that their mother smoked while pregnant with them, for God's sake; that they smoked with their first child and he was fine... all the same interesting points that Ms Booth was making, really.
It's just that, on the whole, we don't see these women: they tend to be the poorest among us and they don't get a picture spread in a magazine to explain why they are smoking while pregnant. All that is truly shocking about the Booth picture and article is that (a) we don't normally see pictures of pregnant women smoking and (b) she is a well-connected, middle-class young woman: the kind of girl who buys organic food and goes to yoga and totally freaks out and transforms every aspect of her life when she gets pregnant because It's The Biggest Thing That Ever Happened To Anyone.
So how bad is it, smoking while pregnant? The answer is that if you smoke very little, there will probably be no detectable effect on your unborn child. That doesn't mean there won't be an impact on your child's health or development: it means any impact will probably be undetectable.
With women who smoke heavily, the effects tend to be more obvious. Babies tend to be smaller. They are more at risk of deformities. They are more prone to asthma. They might be less clever. They are more likely to die in their cot. They are more prone to lung disease as adults... And, of course, the mother is more likely to miscarry. Another serious problem is that a woman who cannot quit while pregnant is unlikely to quit while breastfeeding or as her child grows up.
It is true that many women smoke while pregnant and produce a healthy baby. The problem is that they'll never know if their baby might have been taller, or brighter, or, in the long-term, less susceptible to cancer. Ms Booth is not a criminal, she is simply taking a tiny risk with her baby's health. Some may dismiss her article as irresponsible but the fact is that she is an addict and, who knows, perhaps her words will have given some comfort to all the pregnant women out there who don't keep it down to six fags a week. After all, Lauren is the PM's sister-in-law, and if she says it is political correctness gone mad, well..