New report focuses on need to reduce smoking in pregnancy

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh.
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A new report has highlighted the importance of midwives being trained to help tackle smoking in pregnancy and help more women to have healthy births.

The report has been published by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) on behalf of the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group and is being launched in Parliament today at a joint event between the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on baby loss and the APPG on smoking and health.

The report provides an analysis of the training that midwives and obstetricians receive to address smoking in pregnant women and what further training is needed. Smoking is a major cause of stillbirth and sudden infant death and also leads to more babies being born with health problems and a low birth weight.

Evidence shows that short and straightforward conversations with midwives and doctors can increase the chances of a woman accessing services that will help her to quit.

Smoking rates among pregnant women in the North East have fallen by almost a third from 22.2 per cent in 2009/10 down to 16 per cent in 2016. Behind the fall is a major programme to help midwives raise the issue and refer women to stop smoking services through the babyClear initiative which has doubled quitting rates and received national acclaim.

However, while staff are being taught about the harms from smoking in pregnancy, training on how to communicate this to women, how to use basic equipment such as carbon-monoxide (CO) monitors and how to provide short effective advice to women is not being provided consistently around the country.

Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “The work in the North East has already demonstrated the dramatic reduction the NHS can play by raising smoking as a serious issue and either prescribing treatment or referring patients to stop smoking support.

“In the North East, we found women expected this issue to be raised by their health professional and referrals to stop smoking support increased every time midwives received extra training in how to raise this issue and use CO monitors. It is vital that this is sustained across all localities in the North East and is part of routine clinical practise in all maternity services as it works, is highly cost-effective and can save lives.”

Report author Dr Misha Moore, a doctor in both public health and obstetrics, said: “Throughout this process, people would tell me the importance of reducing smoking in pregnancy ‘goes without saying’. But leaving things unsaid appears to be just the problem.

“The majority of staff are clear on the risks of smoking, but not all are quite so clear on how they could help women to stop. Simple, low-cost, training delivered by every trust in the country could go a long way to addressing this issue.”