CUMBERLAND — The amount of tobacco use by the pregnant population is much worse in Allegany County than the rest of the state, according to the county’s perinatal coordinator.

Perhaps this can account for the alarming increase of low birth weights in the county.

“Smoking has become a huge habit in Allegany County,” said Pamela Ronan, perinatal coordinator at the Allegany County Health Department. “Moms-to-be need to understand the effect smoking has on their unborn babies.”

Research indicates that cigarette smoking during pregnancy is the leading cause of low birth weight in the nation.

The chemicals found in cigarettes can affect the baby’s chances for survival, growth, long-term health and psychosocial development.

The Maryland Kids Count 2007 Data indicates that Maryland’s total low birth weight rate increased by nearly 6 percent between 2000 and 2005.

Allegany County had the highest increase of low birth weight rate — 68 percent — over the past seven years.

In addition to cigarette smoking, use of prescription drugs and receiving late prenatal care can increase low birth weight.

“Education is key. It’s important to have early prenatal care and to review any medications you’re taking with your doctor,” said Ronan.

To help combat low birth weight, Allegany County Health Department offers a smoking cessation program as well as education programs in alcohol and drug use and pregnancy.

The Healthy Start program also offers home visits for pregnant women and infants, early prenatal care, information on nutrition and exercise, and addresses any questions or concerns about pregnancy.

Garrett County was one of four counties in Maryland that saw a decrease in its low birth weight rates.

Of the 1,933 babies born in Garrett County between 2000 and 2005, 887 were enrolled in the Healthy Families program.

“Good nursing and prenatal education makes a big difference,” said Earlene Beckman, director of Healthy Families. “We identify the family’s needs and link them to the resources and services they need.”

The Garrett County Health Department offers home visits and support services for pregnant women and children, alcohol and tobacco prevention education, and programs that support parents’ roles in their children’s lives.

The Children’s Health Program offers coverage for all pregnant women, which includes hospital care, prescription medicines, prenatal doctor visits and hospital delivery.

For more information on healthy pregnancies, log on to www.alleganyhealthdept.com and www.garretthealth.org.

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