NHS helps thousands of pregnant smokers kick the habit

Midwives and other NHS staff have helped almost 15,000 mums-to-be in England quit smoking over just three years, new analysis shows today.

Latest figures show that the smoking rate for pregnant women at the time of birth fell to 9.1% in 2021-22, the lowest annual rate on record, and down from 10.6% prior to the NHS beginning to roll out its Long Term Plan in 2019. Over the three years since March 2019, 14,758 fewer pregnant women were smokers at the time of birth than there would have been if that rate had stayed the same.

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.

Following the rollout of the Saving Babies Lives Care Bundle, all pregnant women are offered electronic checks to test their exposure to carbon monoxide, which is a harmful chemical present in cigarette smoke.

The NHS’s Long Term Plan (LTP) builds on this success, ensuring all maternity services are able to offer all pregnant woman who smoke specialist support to quit, with focused treatment which includes nicotine replacement therapy.
England’s most senior midwife said today that the action taken in maternity services is supporting new mums and their babies to lead healthier lives.

Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, Chief Midwifery Officer for England, said: “NHS maternity staff 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 families lead healthier lives and crucially, cutting the risk of stillbirth, saving babies lives.”

Mum-to-be, Joanna Martula, 25, from Goole, East Yorkshire, was able to kick her smoking habit when she was 12 weeks pregnant after receiving support from midwives at Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust.

Joanna, said: “I was referred to the Your Health Stop Smoking service by my Midwife and was given free Nicotine Replacement Therapy to help me to manage my cravings.

“It was really nice to talk things through with a stop smoking advisor. It made me aware of the risks of smoking for me and my baby. It was also helpful to see the advisor in the Midwives Department to have a conversation on how my quit was going and talk through any issues, which really encouraged me. I am now 39 weeks pregnant and still not smoking. I’m really pleased I did it!”.

Kerry Bird, Stop Smoking in Pregnancy Champion and Advisor, Your Health Service at Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Working in the maternity department has shown to significantly help reduce the Smoking at Time of Delivery rates in the local area. The one to one support we provide to every mum and partner that comes to the clinic helps to build rapport and reassures them that we are there to support them to quit smoking.

“We hold weekly conversations to help people steadily learn the risks of continuing to smoke whilst pregnant and beyond. The benefit of this is that we have more people who are quitting smoking with our support, which reduces risk in their pregnancy and delivery”

Each year, the NHS spends around £2.5 billion on treating health issues caused by smoking.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, which coordinates the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group said: “Pregnant smokers don’t want to harm their babies, but smoking is an addiction, usually started in childhood, and once started very difficult to quit. Getting help and support can triple smokers’ chances of quitting successfully. The NHS stepping up to provide mums to be with the support they need is a vital step towards improving the health and wellbeing not just of babies, but their families too.”

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.

The NHS is accelerating action to reduce stillbirth by half, maternal mortality, neonatal mortality and serious brain injury by 2025.

Public Health Minister Maggie Throup said: “Smoking is extremely addictive and can seriously harm your baby. We’re determined to help people quit, especially those most vulnerable such as pregnant women, and it’s great to see strong progress in this area.

“I am very grateful to NHS maternity staff for helping mums-to-be stub out the habit and reduce the risk of life-threatening complications for women and their babies.”

Pregnant women looking for help with quitting smoking, can get support on the NHS.UK website.