Baby Steps launched

A stop-smoking campaign aimed at Central Alberta pregnant women — who have among the highest rates of lighting up in Alberta among mothers-to-be — kicked off on Tuesday.

Amber Burdett of Lacombe soothes son Levi

A stop-smoking campaign aimed at Central Alberta pregnant women — who have among the highest rates of lighting up in Alberta among mothers-to-be — kicked off on Tuesday.

The five-week marketing and education campaign, Baby Steps, was launched at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. It will use the real-life stories of five Central Alberta women — Amber Burdett from Lacombe, Sylwia Ciezar Andersen and Kerstyn Van Sandick of Red Deer, Wanda Paskemin of Wetaskiwin and Marlaina Littlechild from Hobbema — who recently gave birth or are pregnant.

Their faces will be featured in ad campaigns.

“According to the David Thompson Health Region, 31 per cent of pregnant women in this region smoke as compared to the Alberta average of 20 per cent,” said Ken Hughes, chairman of the Alberta Health Services board.

The campaign is being piloted in Central Alberta and may expand to the rest of Alberta.

It will offer small practical ways for tackling something that can be tough to do, Hughes said.

Van Sandick, who is expecting her first child any day, said she had understands the struggles to quit. She smoked for six years.

“In the very beginning (of my pregnancy), I cut down to about three smokes a day and then it was just trying to fight that,” said Van Sandick, 19. “I still have the regular temptations but I have officially quit smoking.”

Van Sandick is looking forward to sharing her story.

“It’s hard to do it on your own . . . you want to do the best for your baby.”

Stephen Duckett, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, said it’s critical to reduce tobacco use among pregnant women because it causes various health risks to the baby.

“Cigarette smoking is the single largest modifiable risk factor for low birth weight in Alberta,” said Duckett.

Sue Lysachok, executive director of specialized services for Alberta Health Services, said many young women succeed in quitting during pregnancy.

“Unfortunately, they start again, exposing themselves and their children,” Lysachok said. “There is support available.”

Baby Steps will run through April 30. During that time, pregnant women can call 1-866-332-2322 for free confidential support.

Marino Francispillai, program leader for Alberta Cancer Board tobacco control program, said the five-week campaign is only a start to changing lives.

“Some of the outcomes may happen after the fact,” he said.

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