A QUARTER of women in South Tyneside are still smoking at the time they give birth – more than twice the national average.
The figure is the highest proportion of any local authority in the country.
Of the 1,598 women who gave birth in the borough between April last year and the end of March this year a total of 400 were still smokers - 25 per cent.
That compares to a national average of 12 per cent and a North -East average of 16.3 per cent.
Smoking in pregnancy is harmful to both mother and baby, increasing the risk of maternal death, miscarriage and stillbirth, but despite the startling statistics, released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, there is room for some optimism.
South Tyneside’s figure has fallen since the last three months of last year when the proportion of mothers smoking during pregnancy stood at 28.9 per cent.
That is partly attributed to the impact of a new ‘babyClear’ initiative, through which pregnant women are tested and referred to smoking cessation services if necessary.
South Tyneside Council, which now has responsibility for public health, says it is committed to reducing smoking during pregnancy.
A council spokeswoman said: “Despite these figures it’s important to reiterate that the council remains committed to reducing the number of South Tyneside women smoking at the time of delivery to zero.
“Over the past year a great deal of positive work has been undertaken with partners to reduce the number of women smoking at the time of delivery.
“Part of this work is the babyClear initiative which is designed to reduce the barriers faced by midwives when discussing smoking with pregnant women, and reduce the proportion of women who continue to smoke during pregnancy.
“At the booking visit pregnant women are asked to take a carbon monoxide breath test which identifies smokers based on the amount of carbon monoxide exhaled. Smokers are then referred on to the Stop Smoking Service unless they choose to opt out.”
Future work to lower the figures also includes getting the wider family involved in quit attempts.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, which campaigns for a smoke-free North East, said: “Although we have seen large reductions in smoking over the last decade, we still have the worst rates of smoking in pregnancy in England. It is an issue that needs to be tackled collectively.
“Fresh, working with every hospital trust in the region, has launched the babyClear initiative to embed best practice within maternity services.
“Midwives are best placed to relay information to women and this now includes carbon monoxide screening as part of the routine tests all women receive at their initial booking appointment, which is part of national NICE guidance
“If women are still smoking at 12 weeks, the midwife will talk them through a more detailed explanation of the potential harm to the foetus from being exposed to carbon monoxide and other poisons in tobacco smoke. All women with high readings will be referred to NHS Stop Smoking help to quit. It’s important partners quit too.
“However, we need to remember that most women get hooked on smoking as children. We need standardised tobacco packaging as soon as possible to remove glossy brands that make tobacco more attractive to children and young people.”
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