NICU smokefree champion Chantelle Hill with one of the premature babies in the unit, whose mum has decided to give up smoking.
Chantelle Hill works in Waikato Hospital’s Newborn Intensive Unit where small babies are a common sight for a range of reasons – but one of them is very preventable.
“A baby whose mum smoked during pregnancy often can be smaller and needs a bit of help in the beginning. It’s only one of the reasons a baby might be small, but if we can’t see a medical reason, we do ask the mums if they smoked during pregnancy.
For Chantelle, this is an important opportunity to avoid further risks if the baby continues to grow up in a smoking environment at home.
“Becoming a smokefree family reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and also reduces risk of glue ear, asthma and respiratory conditions.
“So talking to mums about that healthy ongoing environment for their baby is a really important part of what we do.”
Chantelle is an associate charge nurse and a smokefree champion for NICU, where she has worked for the past 10 years. That is about to change as Chantelle is currently pregnant herself, due in June.
“I absolutely love it, working with mums and families,” she says.
A lot of the women will encounter smokefree information and support long before they give birth or get to NICU, usually through their midwife or at appointments with the Women’s Health Assessment Unit, as part of Waikato DHB’s Hapū Mama and Hapū Wānanga initiatives. Many women don’t realise that nicotine passes through the placenta into the blood supply. So the baby does get nicotine and all the other nasty chemicals in the cigarette.
But Chantelle understands how hard it can be for a new mum to give up smoking during a stressful time.
“Some of them have been smokefree during pregnancy but have gone back to smoking with the stress of delivering the baby early or because the baby has needed intensive care treatment, so they kind of fall off the perch. It’s a matter of supporting them to get back onto the programme.
“It’s giving them the motivation like, ‘you did so well, you were off smoking for four weeks, I know this is a stressful time but your baby is here now, so let’s work together to keep it healthy and get this baby in the best position to come home to a healthy environment’.”
Chantelle says women come in from as far afield as Taumarunui and Coromandel and often without having much time to prepare. After delivery, they are technically discharged from hospital while their baby is cared for in NICU.
“While they are on the ward we can support them to be smokefree with Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). When discharged, it is harder for them to get to a pharmacy to get more supplies – often they are without transport – and they have to start paying for NRT.”
Lately NICU has been part of a pilot project at the hospital to provide a free month-worth of NRT when a new mum is discharged, which Chantelle sees as a huge plus to keep them on track.
Chantelle says partners are another big factor in keeping new mums smokefree. “If it is an environment where mum smokes and dad smokes, getting them both on board is very important because if someone around you is smoking, you are more likely to slip back to smoking as well.”
If she had one message to give to mothers who smoke it is: “Create a healthy environment for your baby. It is so important for them – much more important than the next cigarette.”