Homegrown with Hope: The program that helps pregnant moms quit smoking

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BISMARCK, N.D. - As we look ahead to 2019, it's time to take stock of what we can improve in our lives. One of the greatest changes parents can make for themselves helps their children, too: quitting smoking.

The Baby and Me Tobacco Free Program helps pregnant women across North Dakota do that. In this Homegrown with Hope, we learn why this program is so effective at reducing the state's pregnancy smoking rates.

"Two years, two months I haven't been smoking," said Destiny Maxon while chasing around her 18-month-old daughter. She has a constant reminder of why she took on one of the hardest challenges she'll ever experience.

"If it wasn't for her, I would never probably quit smoking."

Childbirth is one test of strength, but quitting smoking is an accomplishment respiratory therapists agree she should celebrate every day.

"It's more addictive than heroin or cocaine, because the drug that you're seeking goes from your fingers to your brain in five seconds, or five heartbeats. So, it's a super tough addiction. For these moms to be able to quit while they were pregnant is huge," said Ragean Backman, a respiratory therapist care manager at CHI St. Alexius.

Destiny says she has been smoking since 16. She's tried to quit before, but like so many others, she started back again.

"It was very difficult," she recalls of that attempt to quit. "I didn't have the support or the encouragement that I did through this program."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests it might take eight to 11 tries to successfully quit. But, Destiny didn't feel that was an option.

She wanted to protect her daughter from the harmful effects of nicotine and tobacco, which can cause low birth weights and pre-term birth. She also wanted to give her daughter a smokefree childhood.

Nicotine is a nerve toxin that has been known increase the chance of SIDS in infants.

With the help of Baby and Me Tobacco Free, Destiny got four prenatal sessions to teach her ways to modify her behavior and beat urges to light up. Respiratory therapists hope to help mothers-to-be quit without using medication, and are often successful by the third appointment.

Now that Destiny's child was born healthy, she checks in with program leaders every month to test her carbon monoxide levels. They show she s still tobacco free. In exchange, she gets a $50 diaper voucher to spend on diapers or wipes.

Destiny says she feels like a better person and healthier thanks to her commitment to quit.

Hospital employees say they are encouraged to have helped more pregnant women than ever before make this monumental change, but they leave most of the credit up to mom.

"They have to want to. They have to have the motivation to do it. It has to be important to them," Ragean said.

Check with your healthcare provider if you are interested in taking part in the Baby and Me Tobacco Free Program, which is made possible by grants provided by ND Quits.