Heritage College program helps moms-to-be kick tobacco

Feb 11, 2016

Lynn Mash holds C.J. while his mother, Tiffany Keirns, talks about how Community Health Programs helped her to quit tobacco.

Tiffany Keirns of Chauncey had been smoking cigarettes for half of her life when she learned she was pregnant. But at that moment, she vowed to kick the habit cold turkey. “As soon as I found out, I just quit altogether,” she recalls.

With her baby son, C.J., now around 9 months old, Keirns, 28, a former pack-a-day smoker, reported recently that she was still tobacco free. Staying that way remains a daily struggle for her, but one she considers well worth it. “It’s hard,” she admitted. “But I had to do it for him.”

Keirns knew that smoking during pregnancy put her unborn baby at risk of multiple health problems such as premature delivery, low birth weight and even death. Her obstetrician/gynecologist provided her with more information and referred her to a local program that has helped her stick to her resolve to stay off cigarettes for her baby’s sake.

Baby and Me Tobacco Free ( http://www.babyandmetobaccofree.org/ ) is a national program that’s currently operating in 12 states including Ohio, and is in the process of expanding into more. It is available in multiple Ohio counties; in Athens County, the program is offered by Community Health Programs at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Kenneth H. Johnson, D.O., executive dean of the Heritage College, suggested the program’s benefits for the health of area residents should be clearly evident.

“Quitting tobacco is one of the most important changes people can make to improve their health, and that impact is only magnified when the smoker is an expectant mom,” Johnson observed. “By providing support and advice from caring health professionals, we can make it easier to quit smoking for good. Stories like Tiffany’s and C.J.’s are exactly why the Heritage College is involved in the Baby & Me Tobacco Free program.”

According to Kim Knapp-Browne, who coordinates Baby and Me in Athens County, in the second half of 2015 the program helped 13 local women to quit smoking.

Though Keirns had plenty of motivation to give up tobacco, the task has been made easier by the support of the program’s smoking cessation professional. Pitching in is her mother, Lynn Mash, who faithfully delivers Keirns to her Baby and Me appointments and helps take care of baby C.J. She also gets assistance from the Help Me Grow program, offered by the Ohio Department of Health.

The help she gets from Baby and Me ranges from encouragement and emotional support to education about the health effects of tobacco. Keirns also submits to regular carbon monoxide breath-testing to confirm that she’s not sneaking puffs in between appointments. “I blow in the machine; I’m happy to do that,” she said.

If low birth weight is a common result of smoking by pregnant women, C.J., who tipped the birth scales at well over eight pounds, is a living testimonial to the program’s value. “I wanted a small baby,” Keirns acknowledged with a laugh. “But that didn’t happen!”

Though C.J.’s father still smokes, he is “really supportive” of Keirns’ decision to quit. “He smokes, but he doesn’t do it around me,” she said.

Mash noted that the Baby and Me program also offers a practical incentive for moms like her daughter to stay off cigarettes. For a year after the baby is born, a mom who continues to test smoke-free receives a voucher for $25 worth of diapers each month. “That helps, getting the diapers,” Mash said.

Knapp-Browne said Keirns has clearly been committed to the program from the start, never missing an appointment. Keirns said she’s happy to have kicked the smoking habit for her own sake, in addition to the benefits it entailed for C.J. Even if she hadn’t gotten pregnant, she said, she might have tried eventually to quit anyway. But motherhood made the choice for her, and the Baby and Me program made it easier to carry through on her decision.

“I would recommend it to any mom,” she said. “They need to do it. Even though it’s hard, they should do it for the baby.”