The smoking rate among pregnant women in Hamilton is well above the provincial average and the health unit wants to bring the rate down.

On average, 16.7 per cent of expectant Hamilton mothers smoke. In some areas of the lower city, that number increases to more than 35 per cent.

In total, more than 900 pregnant women smoke in Hamilton.

That’s significantly above the provincial average (12.4 per cent) or the average for the central west region (15.1 per cent). And it is likely accounting for some of Hamilton’s low birth weights, said Dr. Hamidah Meghani, associate medical officer of health.

Postal codes with highest percentage of pregnant women who smoke

L8M: 27.3 per cent

L8L: 35.5

L8K: 20.4

L8H: 29.5

L8N: 29.2

Meghani presented the figures to Hamilton’s board of health Monday during an annual update of the Healthy Birth Weights Coalition.

The greatest number of pregnant smokers are in the area of the lower city where the postal code begins with L8L. That includes Beasley and the north end. About one third of expectant mothers in the L8L area — 35.5 per cent — smoke during their pregnancy. Also, 12 per cent of expectant moms there are teenagers.

The next highest area for smoking moms (29.5 per cent) is the L8H area, which is north of Main and east of the industrial area. That includes the McQuesten neighbourhood.

The lowest areas for smoking during pregnancy were Waterdown, Westdale and Ancaster. Those areas also had the lowest rate of teen pregnancy.

The Healthy Birth Weights Coalition, which includes about 40 agencies, is focusing on decreasing the number of pregnant women who smoke.  Women who smoke during pregnancy are twice as likely to deliver a baby with low birth weight as women who don't smoke, Meghani said.

Tackling a baby’s health can help shape someone’s societal and economic realities for the rest of their lives, she said.

“There are so many things you can drive by driving what happens during and even before pregnancy.”

The project has a Quit Smoking Clinic, which is staffed by a public health nurse who focuses on helping expectant moms and their families stop smoking.

This year, the project will step up the program at the Hunter Street clinic, including offering incentives to families who stop smoking.

Meghani’s presentation included testimony from a mom named Rebecca, who had her baby when she was 17. While pregnant, she cut down on smoking and kicked a crystal meth habit.

Coun. Brian McHattie encouraged Meghani to come back to the board of health if the program needed more resources.

“Please don’t hesitate to come back to us for funding or support of any kind,” he said. 

Low birth weight risk factors

  • Low income.
  • Smoking.
  • Stress.
  • Mom is younger than 20 or older than 35.
  • Poor nutrition.
  • Drugs and alcohol.
  • Low education.
  • Fetal growth restriction.

Impacts of low birth weights

  • Higher costs and risk at birth.
  • Risk of long-term chronic health problems.
  • Impaired brain and physical development.