Are Teenagers Smoking due to fears of a Complicated Childbirth?

New research in Australia by Associate Professor Simone Dennis (Australian National University) came into light recently. He argued that teenagers “had read on packets that smoking can reduce the birth weight of your baby” – these teenagers were afraid of childbirth and it’s complications (Fenton 2016)[1]. They had concerns about giving birth to ‘large babies’ and hoped that smoking would help them deliver smaller babies as a result. The chemicals such as carbon monoxide from cigarettes mean that babies born to pregnant smokers are more likely to be around 8oz underweight, as well as having an increased risk of stillbirth or premature birth (NHS 2015)[2].

This news can be considered worrying as the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe (FPA 2010)[3]. However, it is important to consider the reason why the teenagers are so afraid of childbirth in the first place. One of the reasons could be the portrayal of childbirth in the media. The fear of teenage pregnancy and childbirth could stem from its sensationalism in the news; ‘Childbirth is the number one killer of teenagers’ was one such headline that incited fear amongst the younger generation (Radnedge 2012)[4]. The article claimed a study found that teenagers under 18 were five times more likely to die from childbirth than older women. However, it is important to note that this was a worldwide study conducted by ‘Save the Children’[5], which also focused on less economically developed countries with poorer/ less access to healthcare and so it is not representative of the UK alone.

Nonetheless, studies have been conducted into the representation of pregnancy in the media in more economically developed countries; Kearney and Levine (2014)[6] examined how the television series ’16 and Pregnant’ influenced teenager’s perceptions. They found that teenagers simultaneously searched/ tweeted the terms ‘abortion’ and ‘birth control’ alongside their discussions about the television series. This suggests that childbirth is seen as a problem to be avoided and feared by teenagers, and this could be one possible reason that they take up smoking once they become pregnant – in a misguided attempt to ‘ease’ their fears of childbirth.

The results of this 10-year study into smoking and pregnancy in Australia have certainly shed some light into young people’s fear of childbirth, and the extreme measures they will take to avoid a complicated birth. Perhaps the UK should take heed of these findings for the future and take action to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking during pregnancy amongst teenagers.

 


[1] Fenton, S., 2016. Teenage girls in Australia are taking up smoking in pregnancy to deliberately have smaller babies, study finds. The Independent [online], 18 June 2016. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/smoking-pregnancy-teenage-girls-australia-deliberately-smoke-cigarettes-smaller-babies-labour-a7090486.html [Accessed: 21 June 2016].

[2] NHS., 2015. Stop smoking in pregnancy. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/smoking-pregnant.aspx [Accessed: 8 July 2016].

[3] FPA., 2010. Teenage Pregnancy Factsheet [online]. London: FPA. Available from: http://www.fpa.org.uk/factsheets/teenage-pregnancy [Accessed: 21 June 2016]

[4] Radnedge, A., 2012. Childbirth is the number one killer of teenagers. Metro [online], 26 June 2012. Available from: http://metro.co.uk/2012/06/26/childbirth-is-the-number-one-killer-of-teenagers-481357/ [Accessed: 21 June 2016].

[5] Save The Children., 2012. Pregnancy kills or injures one million girls a year. London: Save The Children. Available from: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/2012-06/pregnancy-kills-or-injures-one-million-girls-year-save-children [Accessed: 21 June 2016].

[6] Kearney, M.S., and Levine, P.B., 2014. Media influences on social outcomes: The impact of MTV’s sixteen and pregnant on teen childbearing. NBER Working Papers [online], No. 19795. Available from: https://bepp.wharton.upenn.edu/bepp/assets/File/AE-S14-Kearney.pdf [Accessed: 21 June 2016].

 

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