Secret Shame

If you smoke, drink, diet excessively or engage in any other dangerous behavior during pregnancy, you're putting your baby's health at risk. The same is true if you're a victim of domestic violence or past sexual abuse. Here's how to get the help you need


Every woman knows she's more likely to have a healthy baby if she avoids tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, extreme dieting and other pregnancy dangers. But some women find they just can't break habits that jeopardize their babies' health as well as their own. Others are being physically abused by their partner--a leading cause of death among pregnant women and their babies--and don't know how to stop it. Or they've been sexually abused in the past, which predisposes them to certain difficulties during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. Ashamed, they keep these secrets from friends, family, and even their doctor or midwife.

Take smoking, for example: Between 11 and 20 percent of pregnant women smoke cigarettes, but few tell their doctors about it. "Women tell us they know smoking is bad for them and their baby, but they believe their health care provider will, instead of offering help, think poorly of them and give them a hard time about smoking," says Cathy Melvin, Ph.D., chairwoman of the National Partnership to Help Pregnant Smokers Quit, headquartered in Chapel Hill, N.C. But the opposite is actually true: When doctors spend just five to 15 minutes counseling pregnant women about the benefits of quitting, smoking cessation rates double or triple.

Doctors aren't surprised that pregnant women hide embarrassing behaviors. "Who wants to be seen as a bad mother?" says Nancy Green, M.D., medical director of the March of Dimes. "Who wants to be chastised, or blamed if the baby isn't perfect?" The fact is, opening up to your health care provider can help both you and your baby. Obstetricians and midwives can refer you to treatment programs, therapists, advocacy organizations and other services designed to assist pregnant women who need help with overcoming bad habits or dealing with the fallout of abuse.

If you're hiding something from your doctor, perhaps the information provided here will give you the courage you need to ask for help.

Secrets Drinking Alcohol Smoking Cigarettes Engaging In Risky Sexual Behavior Having An Eating Disorder Being A Domestic-Violence Victim Using Illicit Drugs How Doctors React to "Shameful" Confessions The Legacy Of Sexual Abuse