Smoking during pregnancy, stigma and secrets: Visual methods exploration in the UK

Aimee Grant, Melanie Morgan, Dunla Gallagher, Dawn Mannay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Citations (Scopus)
169 Downloads (Pure)



Moral judgements are commonly directed towards mothers through reference to health behaviour in pregnancy, and working-class mothers are particularly subject to this moral gaze.


To gain an in-depth understanding of the health issues affecting 10 low income pregnant women from deprived areas of south Wales, UK.


Participants completed visual activities (timelines, collaging or thought bubbles and dyad sandboxing) prior to each interview. Participants’ visual representations were used in place of a topic guide, to direct the interview. Guided by feminist principles, 28 interviews were completed with 10 women. Data were analysed thematically.


Smoking was discussed at length during interviews, and this paper focuses on this issue alone. Five of the participants had smoked during pregnancy. Negative reactions were directed towards pregnant women who smoked in public, resulting in maternal smoking being undertaken in private. Participants also reported awkward relationships with midwives and other health professionals, including receipt of public health advice in a judgemental tone.


Smoking during pregnancy is a particularly demonised and stigmatised activity. This stigma is not always related to the level of risk to the foetus, and instead can be seen as a moral judgement about women. We urgently need to move from individualised neo-liberal discourses about the failure of individual smokers, to a more socio-ecological view which avoids victim blaming.


Stigma from friends, family, strangers and health professionals may lead to hidden smoking. This is a barrier to women obtaining evidence based stop smoking support.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalWomen and Birth
Early online date12 Dec 2018
Publication statusEarly online date - 12 Dec 2018

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