Smoke-free pregnancy: let’s make our contact count

The Chief Midwifery Officer at NHS England and NHS Improvement welcomes new resources aimed reducing smoking in pregnancy:

As a midwife with 31 years’ experience I am all too aware of the potential problems that smoking during pregnancy can cause.

Currently around 65,000 babies are born to mothers who smoke each year and there is strong evidence that shows that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of many health problems for the mother and baby and can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth.

Stopping smoking before and during pregnancy is one of the most important things a woman and her partner can do to protect their unborn baby’s health, while not smoking after the baby is born helps provide the best start in life.

As the first Chief Midwifery Officer for England and one of two national maternity safety champions, I believe that midwives are uniquely placed to provide a practical approach to reducing smoking in pregnancy by ensuring that all pregnant women are tested for exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) and referring those with elevated levels, to stop smoking support.

The provision of relational continuity will ensure that midwives provide personal and safe care to all women including those at greatest need of stop smoking support. This care must include the provision of Very Brief Advice (VBA) on smoking. This a short evidence-based intervention that uses the Ask, Advise and Act model, and has the potential to improve the health of the mother and baby.

I believe that as midwives we have a unique opportunity to make every contact count and get this important health message across to women and their families. Our first and subsequent antenatal and postnatal contacts provide an opportunity to ask about smoking behaviour, provide carbon monoxide testing and refer where appropriate to specialist stop smoking services.

This approach is now supported by additional resources from Public Health England. These resources offer further tools to help midwives and other healthcare professionals describe the main effects of smoking on the health of mother and baby, understand the patterns and prevalence of smoking among pregnant women and provide an overview of VBA and where this fits into the care pathway.

Prevention is critical in helping to meet our ambition to reduce preterm birth and stillbirth.

My key message to you is that this tiny step takes minutes, yet the health benefits are demonstrable. Your contact counts!

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent

Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent has vast experience in healthcare provision and is the first Chief Midwifery Officer in England.

She has worked as a midwife and a nurse and held senior positions in clinical practice, education, leadership and management including: Director of Midwifery and Nursing positions for Women’s and Children’s services at Imperial College Healthcare Trust & Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

Academic roles have included: Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Leader, LME and Professor of Midwifery.

Jacqueline was appointed Chief Midwifery Officer in Spring 2019 at NHS England and NHS Improvement and is National Maternity Safety Champion for the Department of Health. She is also visiting Professor of Midwifery at Kings College London and London South Bank University.

Her experience has seen her leading and influencing national maternity standards and guidance. She also influences healthcare, nationally and internationally through research, education and publications and is frequently invited to speak at national and international conferences. She is a member of the British Journal of Midwifery editorial board and until recently was an active member of the Maternity and Newborn Forum at the Royal Society of Medicine.

She has joined the Tommy’s Charity National Advisory Board as Midwifery advisor, and the Women of the Year management committee. Her voluntary work currently includes Midwifery Advisor for the Wellbeing Foundation Africa and until recently a trustee.

In 2014 she received the HSJ, BME Pioneers award and in 2015 she was selected from over 100 nominations for inclusion on Nursing Times’ Leaders 2015 list that celebrates nurses and midwives who are pioneers, entrepreneurs and inspirational role models in their profession.

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