One-in-six pregnant women smoke in Plymouth
MORE than one in six pregnant women are putting their babies' lives at risk by smoking, new figures reveal.
Plymouth's rate of almost 18 per cent is the highest in the South West.
The national average is just under 13 per cent.
Health experts said services are doing everything they can to warn families of the dangers to unborn children.
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Melanie Edwards, the city's smoking cessation lead, said: "Pregnant women who smoke are putting their child at risk. Stopping smoking is the single most important thing a mother can do for her baby.
"The more common known risks are miscarriage, premature birth and lower birth weight.
"The bigger and stronger a baby, the better their start in life is going to be.
"Smoking restricts the oxygen supply to the foetus so their heart has to beat harder every time their mother smokes.
"In some cases smoking can lead to still birth or bleeding during pregnancy. It can also affect the mum, exacerbating morning sickness and leading to a greater risk of pre-eclampsia."
Ms Edwards said Plymouth's high number of teenage mothers – 45.8 per cent of pregnant women are 19 or younger – is linked to smoking rates.
"We have got a lot of younger pregnant mums who perhaps don't fully understand the risks of smoking," she said.
"It can be harder for them to make that break. They have perhaps been brought up in an environment where family and friends smoke, or their own mothers smoked during pregnancy. It becomes almost normalised in more deprived areas of the city where smoking can be entrenched behaviour."
Ms Edwards said services are doing everything they can to educate families about the serious risks to children and mothers.
"It's about raising awareness and putting ourselves out in the community," she said.
"We have three specialists with midwifery and health visiting backgrounds who go out to try and connect with pregnant women in their own homes and community centres.
"We also work closely with midwives at Derriford Hospital and in the community, so at each point in pregnancy a woman's smoking is raised and they are being told the risks.
"As with other smokers, if pregnant women use our specialist support and the right medication they are four times more likely to quit successfully."
The latest NHS figures, for the first quarter of the year, show 17.8 of Plymouth mums are smoking in the late stages of pregnancy.
This is a slight drop from last year's 18.3 per cent, which equated to 611 people during the whole 2011/12 financial year.
Overall one in four people in Plymouth over the age of 18 smoke, according to government figures.
The city's rate is 25.1 per cent compared to a national average of 20.7 per cent.
Specialist help for pregnant women to quit smoking is available at www.smokefreeplymouth.com/pregnancy or call the team on 01752 314040.
The Herald is running the loveLIFE campaign to encourage people to quit smoking, become healthier and happier.
Sign up now at www.heraldlovelife.co.uk; e-mail email@example.com; or call 01752 765529.