Most people who have recently quit smoking will agree that getting over a nicotine addiction requires a lot of determination. You must not only take care of your physical cravings but also have the right kind of attitude. Often, after a few failed attempts, people successfully quit once something happens in their lives which gives them that extra little bit of strength and motivation. A sort of catalyst for embracing a tobacco-free lifestyle that puts their health and well-being, and that of their loved ones, first.

For many women who smoke, pregnancy is perhaps the most motivating life event that can break their nicotine addiction for good. It is well known that tobacco use during pregnancy results in serious risks for both the woman and the fetus, which is why health professionals strongly recommend that women do not smoke during pregnancy.

Amanda Arsenault, 31, Riverview, is one of these women. The thought of her baby boy, Charlie, growing inside her gave her the strength to not give in to her cravings for nicotine.

“I had been a smoker for 12 years. I had attempted to quit smoking twice with no success; it only lasted a few months each time. But then, when I turned 29, my husband and I were trying to get pregnant and I knew I had to quit for good. I got prescribed Champix from my doctor. Our attempts to conceive went a lot quicker than we had expected. We thought we had a few months ahead of us before it would work, but just four days after I started Champix, I found out I was pregnant. I went off the medication immediately, so I had to rely solely on my inner strength to remain smoke-free during the rest of the pregnancy. To my surprise, it was a lot easier knowing I was pregnant. Knowing that my baby was growing inside of me and that I did not want to harm it gave me the extra strength I needed. Plus, the pregnancy was also making me adopt other healthier lifestyle choices like a healthier diet and exercise, which helped me feel all around better. My child is two years old now. I am still smoke-free. Occasionally, I do have cravings for a cigarette, and it can be frustrating when these thoughts occur. Nicotine is a powerful addiction. But it is so much easier for me now to not give in to these thoughts and cravings.”

Amanda Arsenault and her son, Charlie

Kelsey Nash-Solomon, 29, from St. Mary’s First Nation, is a mother of two beautiful baby boys, Triton, 5, and Declan, 11 months. She has been smoke-free for five years since finding out she was first pregnant.

“Smoking was big in my family growing up. I was exposed to it a lot as a kid, so I started smoking when I was 14. But when I was 24, I got pregnant, and started thinking: What am I doing to my baby? I found out in January that I was pregnant and I quit cold turkey very early in the pregnancy; it was the middle of February 2012. I just kept reminding myself that my baby had no choice in being exposed to what I ate and drank and inhaled. My baby was not asking for nor wanting cigarette smoke. Now that I am a non-smoker, I feel like I’ve added ten years to my life. I can breathe better. I can go out for walks again without my puffer. I am a much more active mom.”

Kelsey Nash-Solomon and her two boys, Triton and Declan

Amanda and Kelsey were right to fear exposing the babies growing inside them to harmful tobacco smoke. Health Canada warns that nicotine, carbon monoxide and other chemicals in tobacco smoke are passed on to the baby through the placenta. Nicotine increases a baby’s heart rate and breathing movements. Some of the chemicals passed on through the mother’s blood are also known to cause cancer. Smoking has been shown to increase the risks of complications in pregnancy and cause serious adverse fetal outcomes including low birth weight, stillbirths, spontaneous abortions, decreased fetal growth, premature births, placental abruption, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Exposure to tobacco can also decrease a woman’s fertility, which is why health professionals recommend quitting smoking as one of the overall proactive measures that women can do to help increase their chances of conceiving.

Jennifer Beaver, 35, Upper KingsClear, mom to Jax, 3, can attest to that.

“My husband and I had been trying to conceive for almost a year. We had been having difficulties. My doctor told me nicotine was, of course, not helping. I had been putting it off. In the back of my mind, I figured I would just quit smoking once I became pregnant. But I made the decision right then and there. I told my husband that I would quit right now, for the sake of our family, for this future baby that we both wanted, and he surprised me by saying that he would also quit smoking. We picked a date and we both starting using Champix. We stayed on the medication for about a month as we went through our withdrawal period. We were both able to quit successfully. Within the next six months after quitting smoking, I was finally pregnant!”

“It’s a horrible addiction,” she adds. “I started smoking when I was 12 years old, and I’m not proud of it by any means. I’m so glad I quit! I would never want my baby around it. Even nowadays, when we are out and about, and I smell second-hand smoke, I move him away from the smoke as quickly as I can.”

Jennifer Beaver and her son, Jax. (Photo credit: Stacey Marie Photography)

For Kelly Whelan, 33, Hartland, the overwhelming newfound love and connection of a mother for her child moments after birth was the life-changing moment that finally made her kick her unhealthy smoking addiction in the butt.

“In 2009, I got pregnant with my first child. I am ashamed to admit that I smoked throughout the pregnancy. It was a surprise pregnancy, and I was not mentally prepared for it. It felt surreal. So that might explain why I continued to smoke, even if I knew it was bad.”

“Then came the day my daughter was born. A few hours after the birth, with all the stress of the birth having wreaked havoc on my body, I started craving a cigarette. I was breastfeeding, and I remember handing my daughter over so that I could go out for a walk outside. I intended to smoke, but as I exited my room, I felt a mix of powerful emotions come over me. I started to cry. I was so angry at myself. I kept thinking: I can’t do this! I can’t put all those chemicals in her! I could see and hold my daughter now; she was a real person, very much alive, and so beautiful. All I wanted to do was protect her. From that point on, every time I had a craving for a cigarette, I would look at and hold my daughter and overcome it.”

Kelly’s story is not too uncommon. According to Health Canada, maternal smoking during pregnancy remains a serious public health problem with approximately 20% to 30% of pregnant women using tobacco.

“My daughter Brooklyn is now seven years old. I was fortunate with her; she is healthy, and there were no serious repercussions from my smoking during pregnancy. She now has a brother, Andrew, 1-year-old. I am proud to be raising these two beautiful kids in a non-smoking household. It’s the best thing I could do for them.”

Kelly Whelan with her husband, daughter Brooklyn, and son, Andrew.

No amount of exposure to second-hand smoke is safe, which is why parents are encouraged to make their home a smoke-free zone. Babies and children are especially at risk for developing illnesses related to second-hand smoke because their immune systems are less developed, they have smaller bodies and faster breathing rates than adults. (Source: Health Canada, The Dangers of Second-Hand Smoke)

Plus, being a non-smoking parent sets a good example and decreases the risk of children becoming smokers once they are teenagers or adults themselves. According to the New Brunswick Student Wellness Survey (2012-13), Grade 12 students who have tried smoking reported smoking their first whole cigarette by the age of 14. Thoughts about experimenting with smoking likely occurred before then. The survey identifies factors that make youth susceptible to tobacco use, which include, among other things, being the children of or siblings to a smoker and living in households which do not enforce a “no smoking” ban.

“I never want my little boy Charlie to start smoking, to make such a bad choice,” says Amanda. “I’m so thankful he’s not growing up around parents who smoke. My own mom smoked. It was considered a lot more normal when I was growing up. But people are more educated now.”

“Before I became pregnant, when I thought about motherhood, you know, I had a vision of myself as an active mom,” adds Jennifer. “I wanted to be able to play with my kids, go on bike rides and keep up with them. Since I am now a non-smoker, I can do these things and be the best version of myself with my child.”

Bravo to all these courageous moms for sharing their story! We are proud to say that you are truly Tobacco-Free Living Champions!

Story and photos used with permission from Amanda Arsenault, Kelsey Nash-Solomon, Jennifer Beaver and Kelly Whelan.

Published in September 2017.

By Nathalie Landry – NBATC Communications Coordinator.