WEARSIDE mums are almost half as likely again to smoke during pregnancy than the national average, new figures show.
A study by Newcastle and Teesside Universities found 18.5 per cent of mothers in Sunderland were still smoking by the end of their pregnancy, compared to 12.7 per cent for England as a whole.
However, the proportion is significantly down since 2007, when 21.9 per cent of women on Wearside were lighting up throughout pregnancy, and the rate in Sunderland is below the 19.7 per cent average for the North East as a whole – the worst in the country.
The figures come as a major new initiative is launched, aimed at protecting thousands of unborn babies from the harm caused by smoking.
babyClear, led by smoking action group Fresh and the Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre, is supported by all eight of the region’s Foundation Trusts including City Hospitals Sunderland.
A report by the Royal College of Physicians found maternal smoking causes up to 5,000 miscarriages, 300 perinatal deaths and 2,200 premature births a year nationwide. In the North East that breaks down to 360 miscarriages, 22 perinatal deaths and 160 premature births.
As part of babyClear, midwives in every North East trust are now including systematic carbon monoxide testing as part of the routine tests all women receive at first booking appointment. All high readings will be referred to NHS Stop Smoking Services within 48 hours.
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust has been the first trust to introduce the scheme, which is now being rolled out across the region.
Ailsa Rutter, director of Fresh, said: “Smoking during pregnancy is an issue the North East needs to collectively address together, and babyClear is a national first to embed best practice within every maternity service across the whole region.
“Midwives are best placed to relay vital information to women and their partners to give them the best chance of having a healthy baby.
“Women need to know there is effective support to quit where they will be helped, not judged.”
Gillian Lund, public health midwife at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Smoking is one of the biggest risks to the health of the unborn baby. It increases the chances of losing the baby but also of giving birth prematurely to an unhealthy, more irritable infant.
“Women smoke during pregnancy for a number of reasons, but most probably started as teenagers and are addicted. If their partner smokes that can make quitting more difficult as well.
“We found many women were shocked and had not previously fully understood the process of how poisonous chemicals reach the baby and deprive them of oxygen. It is a real eye-opener.
“It is important that pregnant women should be empowered with the full facts about smoking so that they fully understand what is happening inside their own body, without judgement or blame. We can help put them in contact with the best available support to help them to quit.”