By Caroline Chen
Social media may be a useful tool for helping new mothers to stay tobacco-free, a recent study suggests.
Published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, the article explores the social factors that influence women’s smoking in the period after childbirth, and how new approaches in relapse prevention should be considered.
Previous research indicates that while many women stop smoking during pregnancy, up to 70% relapse within six months of giving birth. Effective interventions targeting relapse after childbirth appear to be lacking at present.
Factors known to affect relapse include socioeconomic issues, parental stresses, partner’s smoking status, and the woman longing for her pre-pregnancy lifestyle and self.
The authors of the article, titled Investigating the use of social media to help women from going back to smoking post-partum, say most existing interventions tend to overlook the wider social context of smoking mothers. Addressing these social issues may help improve current approaches.
Their findings suggested that tools such as Facebook might help to overcome the social isolation that could contribute to tobacco use, and the researchers said future studies could investigate the use of blogs, Twitter and other online media in enhancing the social connections that might reduce smoking relapse.
As part of this study, women who attended their first antenatal check-ups at general public hospitals were invited to take part in qualitative, phone-based interviews before and after having their babies.
The interviews gathered information on the participants’ recent activities and sources of support, as it has been recognised that physical inactivity, depression from social isolation and routine tasks, and interactions within the community may affect smoking relapse in new mothers.
The first round of interviews were conducted before delivery and sought detailed insight into the participant’s social life, including their participation within their community and connectedness to it. 24 women participated in this initial interview procedure.
Participants were again contacted 12 to 20 weeks after giving birth for a second interview. Five women either declined to participate or could not be contacted. A total of 19 women took part in both interviews.
The study analysis revealed that most women found feelings of isolation made dealing with stress more difficult, and such feelings were markedly evident in those who stayed home after having their baby. Previous studies have shown associations between stress and smoking.
Many of the participants, particularly those without prior parenting experience, supportive spouses or friends nearby, reported that the use of computers and electronic media such as Facebook reduced social isolation. Such forms of electronic communications allowed the women to conveniently share experiences, learn from others and remain connected to the wider community.
The authors view the internet as a platform for women who cannot easily leave the home to interact with other women who also have experience in trying to stay cigarette-free after childbirth.
Some participants recommended electronic communications be used to contact women regularly post-partum. However, the authors noted that the timing and type of information still needs to be trialed and determined.
The article proposes that use of electronic communication should be directed at partners, families and friends, as well as to the women themselves. Live, synchronized interaction with women who have quit and successfully stayed tobacco-free should also be established in the form of blogs, twitter and other online media.
Lowe, J.B., Barnes, M., Teo, C. and Sutherns, S. (2012) Investigating the use of social media to help women from going back to smoking post-partum. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 36(1): 30-32. Feb 2012.
• Caroline Chen is a health communications graduate from the University of Sydney, who is volunteering for a stint as Croakey’s first intern. Her previous articles covered varying policy responses to homeless people and the importance of healthy housing policy.