Quitting smoking is hard, even at this time of year when thoughts turn to New Year resolutions. For a pregnant woman, there’s an incentive – but it’s still not easy.
Help is at hand for smoking mums-to-be in the Wirral, with an innovative and free support service that has been helping mothers, and pregnant women, to quit.
The MeTime Club was launched in May by Solutions 4 Health – contracted to provide stop-smoking services for NHS Wirral. The free 12-week informal group course is specifically for pregnant women looking for help to quit smoking, and has run at centres in the Wirral, including Birkenhead, Rock Ferry, and Wallasey.
Sessions combine professional advice, support and supply of patches or other nicotine replacement therapies, with fun and interactive activities like healthy eating, cookery, stress management, yoga and reflexology. Run mainly in local children’s centres, a crèche and transport are generally available.
Victoria from Tranmere (who prefers to stick with her first name) is 31 and expecting her first baby in February. A smoker since the age of 16, she was on 20 cigarettes a day when she became pregnant. “I just wasn’t giving up.” she says. “But then my midwife recommended that I join the MeTime group being run at Birkenhead’s St James Centre.”
She goes on, “The first day I went, I didn’t buy cigarettes because I knew I was going to give up – I never smoked again. Now, I don’t miss it at all, not one wobble. At first I would stay away from people who smoked, but now I’m fine. I just look at a cigarette now and think, why did I do it?”
Adding that she has even influenced a couple of her friends to quit, Victoria cites the close personal support she received as essential to her success, with the coordinators constantly available to talk or text. “They showed me pictures of a placenta from a smoking mother, which was black compared to a pink healthy one.” she says. “I thought, I wouldn’t want to feed through that, so why should my baby?”
“If it wasn’t for MeTime, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.” says Victoria. “I am more positive, less stressful and healthier, and it’s thanks to the support I had from the MeTime team.”
Now expecting her sixth child, 39-year-old Leanne from Seacombe, gave up thanks to the Wallasey MeTime group. Her sixth birth is not far away – in fact, she may be back home with a new baby in time for Christmas! “I knew the baby was small, as my other children were, because I had smoked during pregnancy.” Says Leanne. She gave up at 20 weeks pregnant, 16 weeks ago.
“I feel a hundred times better, and the baby is growing fine.” Says Leanne. “I would never smoke again.” Nicotine patches were really helpful, she says, “But what really counted was the encouragement and support I had from the group and organisers.”
She adds, “My sense of smell and taste are so much better now, I can smell smoke on other people, which is disgusting!”
A key feature of MeTime is the way it reaches out to people with particular difficulties. Home visits are arranged for those unable, for whatever reason, to get out, and transport to and from the centres helps more people to attend the courses.
This was vital for 17-year-old single mum Chantel, who was fetched to and from the Rock Ferry centre from her Eastham home. Now mother to a healthy two-week old baby girl, Chantel feels that MeTime helped her not only to quit smoking, but also with her future life development. “After MeTime, I started on a mums-to-be course at Tranmere College.” She says. “Now I am learning about health, money management and careers. I’m going back to college proper next September, so I’ll have a qualification and be able to show that I haven’t just been sitting around.”
With such a positive attitude, giving up the smoking was not going to faze Chantel. Hospital staff told her about MeTime at her 12-week scan. “I stopped halfway through the course.” She says, “I only used the gum, but the organisers were also really helpful in making me understand that I should stop. They’re still texting me – it’s really nice to have that support.”
Christine, 26 and from New Ferry is at home with her second son, now ten weeks old. A heavy smoker since the age of eighteen, she admits that she didn’t listen to advice during her first pregnancy. “This time I suppose I was just ready to do it. I thought it was going to be harder, to be honest.” She comments, adding, “But it’s been six months now, and I know I will never smoke again.”
Christine clearly remembers the date she quit smoking – June 4th. “I started the course at Rock Ferry in May and decided to quit a week later.” She says. “I haven’t had a cigarette since.” She adds, “Everyone in the group was very supportive and the organisers were great, texting me almost every day with encouragement. We’re still in touch, even now.”
“We are delighted with all these fantastic stories.” Says Solutions 4 Health’s Wirral coordinator Samantha Thompson, “But they’re not the only ones. We have supported many pregnant women throughout their quit and fully understand that it’s not easy, especially on your own. But with professional help you are four times more likely to be able to give up the cigarettes for good!”
Over 8 million people in England smoke and, while smoking rates have declined, the rate of decline has slowed. Twenty-one per cent of adults in England continue to smoke, which is why the Department of Health wants to reduce adult smoking prevalence to 18.5% by 2015. Smokers are four times more likely to quit successfully when they have professional support.
Any women wishing to join the MeTime group should call Samantha Thompson on 07824 806132.