Midwives and other NHS staff have helped almost 15,000 mums-to-be in England quit smoking during the last four years, according to new analysis by the health service.
Latest figures show that the smoking rate for pregnant women at the time of birth in 2021-22 fell to 9.1% from 9.6% in the previous year, which is the lowest annual rate on record. Since 2018-19, 14,758 fewer pregnant women were smokers at the time of birth than there would have been if the maternal smoking rate had remained unchanged.
Since 2019, as part of the NHS’s Long Term Plan (LTP), pregnant woman are offered specialist advice to help quit smoking; and electronic carbon monoxide tests to check their exposure to harmful chemicals during their antenatal appointments.
Additional support offered by NHS maternity services to help pregnant smokers quit include free nicotine replacement therapy and coaching for partners to support the whole family to stop smoking.
Smoking in pregnancy carries serious health risks - carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen getting to the placenta and baby - which can lead to women going into labour early as well as increasing the chance of miscarriage, stillbirth and sudden infant death.
England’s most senior midwife says the action taken in maternity services is supporting new mums and their babies lead healthier lives.
Professor, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer for England, said: “Midwives and other members of maternity teams across England are working tirelessly to help mothers to give up smoking ensuring their babies get the very best start in life.
“Smoking can have devastating health implications for a mum and her baby, including increasing the risks of going into labour early, as well as an increased chance of miscarriage and stillbirth. This is why the support which thousands of mothers have already taken up to become smoke free is so vitally important.
“From classes to help you stop to nicotine replacement therapy – the NHS Long Term Plan is rolling out action to help pregnant smokers quit, helping whole family lead healthier lives and crucially, cut the risk of stillbirth and save babies lives.”
Tierney-Rose Holmes, from Rochdale, was supported by the maternity-led stop smoking service at Rochdale Infirmary and is now enjoying a smokefree life with her young daughter Maddie. She started smoking when she was just a teenager and tried to quit many times before quitting for good when she became pregnant with her first baby in spring 2019. She said:
“I had smoked for almost six years and knew I would need help to quit. So, when I was asked if I smoked at my first midwife appointment, I was honest and said yes. I told the midwife that I desperately wanted to quit, and I was relieved to find that I would receive stop smoking support as part of my prenatal journey.
“I was referred to the stop smoking service and my Maternity Support Worker, Jo, was so supportive and took the time to listen to everything that was going on in my life at the time. We developed a really strong relationship, and she became a friend during that time. With Jo’s support I got through the tough times and I’ve now been smokefree for two years. Without the support I really don’t think I would have been able to quit.
“Quitting gave me a healthy baby and it’s great to know that I am giving us both a healthier future. I feel much better since quitting, and I’m so happy that my house is now smokefree.”
Each year, the NHS spends around £2.5 billion on treating health issues caused by smoking.
Jane Coyne, Treating Tobacco Dependency Lead Midwife at NHS England who is also the programme lead for Greater Manchester said:
“Every parent wants their baby to have the best start in life, and our Smokefree Pregnancy programme recognises that quitting smoking is not easy. It’s a serious addiction, not a lifestyle choice, and our specialist maternity support teams provide a sensitive, non-judgemental approach which makes sure expectant parents get the personalised help and support they need to stay smokefree.
“Smoking during pregnancy and breathing in second-hand smoke, also known as passive smoking, is a major risk factor for complications during pregnancy and birth, which is why we’re so proud of this work to save babies’ lives in Greater Manchester. It’s brilliant to see that more action is being rolled out on a national scale to support pregnant smokers to quit.”
The NHS has recently committed to an additional £127 million for maternity services across England over the next year, to help ensure services are providing safer and more personalised care for women and their babies.
Under the LTP, the NHS is accelerating action to reduce stillbirth by half, maternal mortality, neonatal mortality and serious brain injury by 2025.
The NHS is also bringing together England’s 42 Local Maternity Systems and local health organisations, clinicians and families together to make sure maternity services meet the needs of their communities, and therefore deliver continued improvements in outcomes.
Pregnant women looking for help with quitting smoking, can get support at https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/stop-smoking/
For more information, please contact the NHS North West media team – firstname.lastname@example.org
The latest Statics on Women’s Smoking at the Time of Delivery: England are available here.
Please feel free to use any of our smokefree pregnancy programme videos:
- https://youtu.be/2zfTjh9oNaU - Tierney-Rose's story (new mum)
- https://youtu.be/Rr5X8qCCSk4 - summary of the programme, interviews with the team and service users