Wales has the highest rate of smoking during pregnancy in the UK which is putting thousands of babies’ lives at risk, health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Wales has warned.

33% of mums-to-be in Wales smoke at some point during their pregnancy - considerably higher than the UK average of 26% - exposing 11,864 unborn babies to harm from tobacco each year.

Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot death); premature birth; low birth-weight and miscarriage. Maternal smoking is also associated with a range of health problems throughout the baby’s life including asthma, birth defects such as cleft lip, ADHD and learning difficulties.

In Wales, one-to-one quit smoking support can be provided to pregnant women by Stop Smoking Wales, but rates remain stubbornly high.

As Mothers’ Day approaches this Sunday ASH Wales is calling for every midwife and health visitor in Wales to be trained to advise women about quitting smoking as part of their pre-registration training, in a bid to support more women through the process of giving up.

“It is a sad fact that Wales continues to have the highest rate of smoking in pregnancy in the whole of the UK. Giving up smoking is hard on its own but with the added pressures of having a baby it is doubly challenging, which is why extra support is vital for pregnant women to help them give up. Midwives and health visitors are able to build close relationships with women, at home and in the community, and are often the best placed to support women throughout their pregnancies and afterwards.”

Elen de Lacy, Chief Executive of ASH Wales

Four of Wales’s Health Boards have been piloting a new programme called the MAMSS (Models for Access to Maternal Smoking Cessation Support) project which uses different groups of staff such as midwives and maternity support workers to deliver intensive interventions in women’s homes or a setting of their choice in a bid to improve engagement with pregnant women.

It is hoped this project will inform the future direction of smoking in pregnancy services in Wales.

Samantha Paul from Bridgend gave up smoking when she was pregnant with her second child with support from the MAMSS project at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.

“I was smoking between 10 and 20 a day and knew I had to give up but I couldn’t do it on my own. The help I got from my midwife Julie was brilliant. She came to the house and really helped me through it. She told me that we would set a date to quit and helped me prepare all week for that day. I got an inhaler and patches and within two days I’d quit and I haven’t smoked since but she still calls me up to see how I’m doing. The readings on the carbon monoxide monitor used to scare me because of what was going through to the baby – the reading was 18 before but is now down to 2. Now I can’t even stand the smell of smoke!

“I would encourage other mums-to-be to just give it a go, but they need support and someone to help them through it. The MAMSS project has a great approach that’s so supportive. I’m really scared though of falling off the wagon especially after the baby is born with all the stress and worry of a new-born baby. I don’t want to smoke again but I I’m worried because that’s what happened after my first child was born. I think support for mums post-natal is just as important as before the baby is born.”

Samantha Paul