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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

​Health Care Providers Should Use Window of Opportunity When Caring for Pregnant Teens Who Smoke, Pitt Nurse Researchers Report

PITTSBURGH, June 7, 1999 — Concern for their unborn babies may incite pregnant teens who smoke to quit and adapt a healthier lifestyle, according to a report by a group of nurse researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. The article, which is published in the June issue of the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, says this creates an important window of opportunity for health care providers to intervene and offer smoking cessation advice.

"This window of opportunity occurs when we, as health care providers, can establish the fact that these teens are not just caring for themselves anymore," said Susan Albrecht, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor of nursing. "Their unborn baby’s health depends upon her smoking cessation choice."

The study states that multi-session smoking cessation programs with peer support have been successful in encouraging many pregnant teens to quit smoking. For instance, according to Dr. Albrecht, 50 percent of teens who participate in the "Teen FreshStart plus Buddy" program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing have successfully quit smoking when compared to teens who use no intervention. One-to-one peer support, group affiliation, peer role-modeling and adult support have proven to be the most successful strategies with this population, according to Dr. Albrecht.

In their article, the nurse researchers describe guidelines for smoking cessation interventions in pregnant teens. These guidelines were developed for the suggested use of health care professionals who care for this population.

Perhaps one of the most important guidelines is for healthcare providers to gather a smoking history through a simple assessment form as part of a routine initial health assessment. Questions should be brief and easy to complete and should include items that assess the mother’s interest in smoking cessation, such as those about lifestyle, according to the researchers. The health care provider should advise the young woman to quit and emphasize the effects of continued tobacco use on the health of the fetus, infant and mother. The teen then can be further assisted through a smoking cessation intervention program with arrangements made for follow-up appointments once the quit date occurs.

"Whatever the strategy, new mothers need to be informed of the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke exposure on infants and children while being supported in their cessation efforts," Dr. Albrecht noted. "Smoking during pregnancy can result in low birth weight, growth retardation, learning disabilities and an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome."

"We need more intensive interventions with this high-risk group," said Maureen Reynolds, Ph.D., project director. "Pregnant teens need role modeling and support during the critical transition from adolescence to motherhood. The bottom line is that health care providers can have a positive influence on the health of mothers, infants and children by encouraging and supporting smoking cessation efforts in young mothers."

Founded in 1939, the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Nursing offers a comprehensive educational program conferring undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees. Its varied programs are designed to meet the diverse needs of students interested in professional nursing education, ranging from newly graduated high school students beginning a career in nursing to experienced nurses seeking a doctoral degree for careers as nurse scientists, teachers and informatics professionals.

For more information about Pitt’s School of Nursing, please access


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