Pregnant women are smoking and drinking in private because they are ‘irritated’ by people’s reactions to the habits which are known to harm unborn babies.
Judgement from midwives has led women to feel ‘alienated’ and have ‘awkward’ relationships, research has found.
Victim-blaming needs to end, researchers claimed, and a stigma is more often based on moral judgement of the mother, instead of the level of risk to an unborn child.
Smoking and drinking during pregnancy is known to raise the risk of miscarriage or premature birth and can lead to disability in children.
Interventions to reduce smoking often rely on midwives identifying women who have the habit.
But women are often reluctant to disclose their habits because they are afraid of moral judgement, the research found.
‘I think some of them (midwives) can be a bit bossy can’t they? Don’t do this, don’t do that. Oh please, just shush,’ one participant said.
Researchers came to the conclusion that smoking is a stigmatised activity, and said: ‘This stigma is not always related to the level of risk to the foetus, and instead can be seen as a moral judgement about women.
‘We urgently need to move from individualised neo-liberal discourses about the failure of individual smokers, to a more socio-ecological view which avoids victim blaming.’
Smoking tobacco when pregnant has for years been known to be seriously damaging to the baby’s health, as well as the mother’s.
It increases the risk of a miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, breathing problems, complications in labour, and sudden infant death syndrome.
Children whose parents smoke are also more likely to develop asthma when they grow up.