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Mar 15, 2012

Nicotine Patches to Quit Smoking During Pregnancy

Can nicotine patches help pregnant women quit smoking safely?

Smoking during pregnancy is extremely harmful to both mother and child, and is the leading preventable cause of morbidity and death among women and infants. Not only does smoking during pregnancy increase risk of adverse birth outcomes, such as miscarriage, low birth weight and sudden infant death, it puts the health of the mother in harm’s way. What can be done to help pregnant women quit smoking to protect the health of mothers and their children?

A number of studies have shown that behavioral support helps pregnant women stop smoking. However, few studies have tested both the safety and efficacy of medications, such as nicotine-replacement therapy. Although doctors believe that nicotine-replacement therapy is probably less harmful than smoking, there is little evidence to confirm this belief.

To address this issue, English researchers conducted a study with a total of 1,050 female participants, all of whom were 12-14 weeks pregnant and smoked regularly. Half of these patients received active nicotine patches and the other half received patches that were inactive, providing no medication to aid in smoking cessation. Researchers then tracked abstinence from smoking in both groups for 8 weeks and monitored any adverse pregnancies or birth outcomes. The results of this study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that nicotine patch use did not significantly stop smoking among the pregnant women nor did it increase risk of adverse outcomes in mother or child. However, so few women actually used the patches consistently over the study period that assessing both safety and efficacy was limited.

Based on these findings, further research is needed to assess the use of nicotine patches during pregnancy and other ways to help support pregnant women with smoking cessation and reducing chances of adverse outcomes.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does the nicotine patch work?

  • The nicotine patch is a square bandage that provides a steady, controlled dose of nicotine to the body throughout the day. This reduces the effects of nicotine withdrawal, helping reduce cravings for cigarettes. Over time, the strength of the patch will be reduced so that individuals can gradually wean themselves off of nicotine.
  • Where can I find nicotine patches?

  • Nicotine patches can be purchased over the counter at most drug stores. However, it is important that you check with your doctor before using the patch, especially if you take other medications. Pregnant women should not use the patch unless advised to do so by their doctor.

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