Depression Treatment to Help Pregnant Smokers
> 9/11/2007 11:28:00 AM

It may come as a shock to some, but even with all the information surrounding the horrible outcomes, more than 10% of pregnant women continue to smoke. In fact, research from earlier this year found that 21.7% of pregnant women report some cigarette use, while a full 12.4% meet the criteria for nicotine dependance. Over the last several decades the U.S. has had a great deal of success in reducing smoking in general, but even more so in reducing smoking in pregnant women. Using a prevention strategy of "quit for your baby," that focuses on many of the potential negative outcomes of smoking, these efforts have largely been viewed as a success.

Now researchers are discussing the need for a change in strategy that focuses on the remaining pregnant smokers. As Dr. Renee Goodwin's research highlighted back in April, the 12.4% of nicotine dependent pregnant women, and even the 21.7% who use cigarettes, appear to be at a significantly increased risk of qualifying for a depression diagnosis. This potential connection may provide a more effective approach for practitioners and researchers looking to help women leave their cigarettes behind. Speaking to the AP, Dr. Jan Blalock of the University of Texas M.D Anderson Cancer Center addressed the question of treating these smokers:

"These ladies all know, I promise you, about the health risks. That's not what it is," [she says].

"We should at least understand more about why these ladies don't quit. We should be looking more carefully instead of just saying, 'Whoop, got this group of hard-core smokers.'"

To that end, Dr. Blalock has begun work on a new program that will utilize aggressive cognitive behavioral therapy treatment to help pregnant women quit. Called Project Baby Steps, Dr. Blalock's program is currently recruiting women to participate in a prolonged experiment that she hopes will cut smoking and set a course for a healthier life for both mother and child.

No matter whether she encounters success or failure, Dr. Blalock's efforts mark an important step toward improving conditions for pregnant women who have struggled with nicotine dependence. Depression treatment during pregnancy has swirled with controversy this year due in large part to a variety of reports on the side-effects of psychopharmacologic substances. This situation is far different though, as the main focus in these situations is to address the specific behavior of smoking through treating depressive symptoms. If physicians and therapists can help women complete a healthy pregnancy without medication, then they can focus on the root of the depression after mother and child have returned home from the hospital.

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