One in eight women are still smoking during pregnancy, but the numbers are falling, new figures suggest.
Despite strong health guidance urging women to quit while preparing for motherhood, around 12% of mothers-to-be in England classed themselves as smokers in 2013-14.
“Health providers should ensure there are enough midwives with the time to offer women support, advice and referral to smoking cessation services”
While the overall figures have dropped to an eight-year low, more still needs to be done to reach a national ambition to bring the rates of smoking in pregnancy down to 11% or less by the end of 2015, public health experts said.
In the 12 months to March this year, 75,910 expectant mothers classed themselves as smokers out of 632,960 pregnant women, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
In some parts of the country more than one in four pregnant women admitted to being smokers.
Of those being cared for by NHS Blackpool, 27.5% of pregnant women were smokers. Meanwhile, only 1.9% of women cared for by NHS Richmond or NHS Central London smoked during pregnancy.
“It is encouraging to see that since 2006-07 the number of pregnant women who smoked during pregnancy has declined,” said HSCIC chair Kingsley Manning. “However, there is still a little way to go to achieve the national ambition.
“Today’s figures highlight there is a still work to be done and it is fundamental that mothers-to-be are aware of the damaging effects smoking can have on their baby,” he said.
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “The evidence about the damage to women and their developing baby from smoking is large and growing, so whilst the fall is welcome we must strive to reduce it even further. This is particularly needed in high smoking areas.
“Targets for reduction are fine, but they need to be backed up with resources. Health providers should ensure there are enough midwives with the time to offer women support, advice and referral to smoking cessation services.
“Continuity of care is also important so that midwives can develop a trusting relationship with women, which is critical if women are to feel comfortable in talking about issues such as this.”
Dr Nick Hopkinson, medical adviser to the British Lung Foundation, said: “It is excellent news that fewer women are smoking while they are pregnant − quitting smoking is one of the most important ways that parents can ensure their children get a good start in life.
“Babies’ developing lungs are damaged by smoking during pregnancy and passive smoke exposure in early life is a major cause of chest problems including asthma and pneumonia,” he said.
“The wide variation in smoking rates is a cause for concern,” he added. “Resources to help people to quit need to be targeted especially at areas where rates are still high.”