March of Dimes Campaign To End Premature Birth

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March of Dimes

Smoking is One of the Leading Causes of Premature Birth

If you’re a young mom in North or West Wisconsin, you’ve got a lot of hope, and a lot of help trying to quit, and one of the most important resources is a program called First Breath.

Run by the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation and supported in part by funding from the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation and the March of Dimes, First Breath provides training, tools, and resources for healthcare providers to help women have tobacco-free pregnancies. In addition, they provide education and incentives to women in the program, and track site-specific progress and outcomes. Their WWHF staff supports providers at 160+ sites statewide, who in turn ultimately serve approximately 1,200 women a year.

“Stopping smoking is one of the most important things a mom-to-be can do to have a healthy pregnancy,” said Dr. Michael Jaeger, senior clinical officer for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin. “Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation is proud to support First Breath so that the tools and resources needed to quit smoking can reach more women.”

The Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation developed the First Breath program in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Established in 2000, it’s the longest continuously running prenatal smoking cessation program in the state, and has grown considerably since its inception, treating over 17,000 women in total.

Success rates are good considering it’s a constant battle—nicotine is more addictive than heroin. But women who’ve gone through the program and have succeeded are relieved and proud to be on the other side, and reinforce each other’s and their own efforts with plans for a bright, tobacco-free future for them and their families.

“Fortunately, being pregnant is the #1 reason women quit smoking,” said Marilyn Noll, the March of Dimes Maternal and Child Health Program Director. “If the program can help them get through their pregnancy without smoking, and help them stay off cigarettes after the baby’s born, they have a really good chance to be tobacco-free five years later.”

For their babies, the stakes are high. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, which narrows blood vessels, and in pregnant women makes it harder for blood and nutrients to get through the umbilical cord. And that’s just the nicotine. The carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and the other more than 70 harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke have been linked to low birth weight, asthma, allergies, attention-deficit disorders, colic, childhood obesity, even SIDS, and of course, premature birth, which is responsible for a whole additional host of possible life-long health issues, including vision and hearing deficits, cognitive disorders and intellectual disabilities, and even death.

“A lot of the women in First Breath don’t have much support in their lives to develop good habits,” said Amanda Brenden, a Woman’s Health Foundation trainer, and the first employee to go through the program herself. “For a lot of them, cigarettes are their only coping mechanism. We’re trying to be that positive force to help women to take one step after another to make their lives healthier for themselves and their families. I should know. I was once one of them myself. It’s a terribly difficult to quit, but it’s worth everything to these women and their babies.”

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