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Midwives welcome drop in smoking rate among pregnant women

Quitting smoking is one of the best things a woman and her partner can do to protect their baby’s health through pregnancy and beyond according to The Royal College of Midwives (RCM).

Reducing smoking in pregnancy is a key driver in reducing stillbirth rates, says the RCM as it welcomed new figures from NHS England that show a reduction in smoking among pregnant women.

The latest figures show midwives and other smoking cessation NHS staff have helped almost 15,000 mums quit smoking over the past three years. With the smoking rate for pregnant women at the time of birth falling to 9.1% in 2021-22, down from 10.6% prior to 2019.

Clare Livingstone, Professional Policy Advisor at the RCM and public health lead, said:

“Midwives support women and their partners to stop smoking, providing vital information, support and referrals into specialist services. However, maternity services are experiencing significant staff shortages and without sufficient funding, further improvements in smoking rates will be in peril.”

The Khan Report, published last month and which included evidence from the RCM, outlined 15 recommendations to ensure the Government’s national target to be smokefree by 2030 is reached. It also highlighted the impact of smoking in pregnancy, which is associated with an increased risk of stillbirth, miscarriage and sudden infant death syndrome. 

Smokers are up to four times as likely to quit successfully using help from a trained practitioner, compared to doing it alone.

The RCM is aware that innovative support programmes are achieving good outcomes and that intensive, tailored support requires long term investment. However, a recent RCM survey found almost 70% of Heads of Midwifery were without a stop smoking specialist midwife in their maternity team.

Across the UK there is still much to be done to reduce rates of smoking amongst pregnant women. There is significant variation in maternal smoking rates, depending on age, ethnicity and socio-economic status, with rates of smoking in pregnancy in the most deprived areas of England, 5 times those in the least deprived areas.

Photo: by Christian Bowen on Unsplash