Laura Zarpellon is passionate about helping pregnant women to give up smoking.
The Monash midwifery graduate is employed by Quit to train midwives on the latest research and most effective methods to help pregnant women give up cigarettes and remain smoke-free after their babies are born.
While her midwifery skills and experience help Laura understand how midwives can best communicate with and support pregnant women, her current role also involved exposure to policy development, legislation and advocacy. “These are all new areas for me, areas I am becoming increasingly interested in,” she said.
In Australia about 58,000 babies are born to smokers each year. Smoking during pregnancy can contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, miscarriage, low birth weight and stillbirths. Laura said recent research also pointed to long-term effects such as respiratory infections and learning difficulties.
Laura said giving up cigarettes was often a different process for pregnant women than other smokers. Pregnant women had a more immediate incentive to quit and were discouraged from using products such as nicotine patches, gum, inhaler and the nicotine-free pill. Instead, they needed more intense intervention and direct personal support.
There was also a higher rate of relapse for women who quit while pregnant. While 20 to 30 per cent of pregnant smokers give up the habit, about 70 per cent take it up again after their baby is born.
The powerful incentive to quit smoking to protect the health of an unborn child often doesn’t last after the birth, Laura explained. Also the stress of caring for an infant made it harder to resist the urge to continue smoking.
Part of her work involves training midwives to continue supporting women to remain smoke free after their baby is born.
She has also returned to Monash to lecture third-year midwifery students on supporting women in their attempts to give up smoking.
After graduating from a Bachelor of Midwifery degree from the School of Nursing and Midwifery’s Peninsula campus in 2005, Laura practiced midwifery at Box Hill Hospital. She worked in a team with other midwives to provide one-on-one care during the antenatal period, on call labour and birth, postnatal care and domiciliary follow up.
Laura said providing this type of care was a highlight of her midwifery career. “Care was centred around the women,” she explained. “The partnerships I developed with the women were based on equality, empowerment, informed choices, and self-fulfilment, not only for the women but also for me as their midwife.”
It was during this time that Laura developed her passion for health promotion and education.
“This is such an important issue and there is still so much that can be done,” she said. “If only one woman gives up smoking we are making a difference.”