In Kansas last year, more than 4,800 women smoked cigarettes during their pregnancies, according to a preliminary summary of birth statistics released Tuesday by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The finding means that in 2013, about one in every eight births - 12.5 percent - involved mothers who smoked for at least three months shortly before or during their pregnancies.
“We can’t ignore that,” says Dr. Dennis Cooley, chair of the state’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Infant Mortality. “It’s an improvement over where we were the year before, but it’s still way too high.”
Nearly 5,500 women smoked during their pregnancies in 2012.
Smoking during pregnancy is known to increase the risk of stillbirths, premature births and underweight babies.
KDHE officials and child health advocates have set a goal of lowering the rate of mothers who smoke during pregnancy to no more than 1.4 percent by 2020.
“We need to focus more of our efforts on smoking mothers,” says Cooley, a practicing pediatrician who’s also a past president of the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “And we need to focus those efforts on the areas where the data tells us have the highest rates.”
Other findings in the report:
• KDHE’s Office of Vital Statistics recorded 38,802 births in 2013. That’s 1,502 fewer births - a 3.7 percent reduction - than in 2012.
• Kansas’ birth rate in 2013 was 13.4 births per 1,000 population. That’s the lowest it’s been since the state centralized its recordkeeping system in 1912.
• Kansas’ birth rate has not increased since 2007.
• Seven counties – Douglas, Geary, Johnson, Riley, Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte – accounted for almost 60 percent of the state’s births last year.
• The number of out-of-wedlock births, teen births (mothers between age 15 and 19), low birth-weight babies and premature births (less than 37 weeks gestation) all decreased slightly.
• Thirty babies were born to mothers between age 10 and 14 last year; 41 were born to mothers ages 45 or older.
• The percentage of pregnant women who received prenatal care during their first trimester increased from 78.9 percent in 2012 to 79.4 percent in 2013.
“It’s encouraging to see that teen pregnancies are down, premature births are down, low birth-weight (babies) are down and prenatal care is up,” says Dan Partridge, director at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.
“These may seem like modest gains, but I think they show we’re moving in the right direction,” Partridge says. “We’re seeing improvements, but we still have a lot of work to do. We have to keep at it and, yes, the mothers' smoking rate is far too high.”
The statistics will be included in the Kansas Annual Summary of Vital Statistics, which KDHE officials expect to release in September.
Dave Ranney is senior writer/editor with KHI News Service, an editorially independent reporting program of the Kansas Health Institute.