Shocking game of ‘Russian roulette’ played by pregnant smokers in Suffolk

Movements in a fetus whose mother is a smoker (top) and a fetus whose mother is a non-smoker (below)

Movements in a fetus whose mother is a smoker (top) and a fetus whose mother is a non-smoker (below). - Credit: Archant

Mothers who smoke during pregnancy have been warned they are playing “Russian roulette” with their child’s health after shocking statistics revealed the dangerous habit is still rife in Suffolk.

An investigation by this newspaper found that more than one in 10 pregnant women in the region put the health of their unborn child at risk by continuing to smoke right up to the birth.

We analysed the data for more than 40,000 pregnancies between April 2013 and December 2014 and while the figures for the region are improving, not at the rate of other parts of the country. The area covered by Yarmouth and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group has the worst figures with 16.2%, compared to the national average of 11.7%. In 2008/9 the Waveney figure was 25.9%.

The percentages for West Suffolk was also higher than the national average with 13.8% of mothers smoking through pregnancy.

In Ipswich and East Suffolk, by comparison, the figure was 8.9% and in Mid Essex, 8.7%.

Andy Trohear, specialist stop smoking adviser for The Great Yarmouth and Waveney Stop Smoking Service, said the introduction of pioneering new approaches had helped reduce the figures, but admitted there was much more work to do. He added: “We pioneered a scheme where midwives carry carbon monoxide monitors and refer pregnant smokers. Health visitors are now doing the same when in the past they would just tick a box.

“The problem we have is getting bums on seats, too many people just think ‘it won’t happen to me’ or ‘my mum smoked and she was fine’. But they are playing Russian roulette with the health of their babies.”

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Lynda Bradford, who is head of health improvement for adults at Suffolk County Council, said support was available to mothers who wanted to give up, though she acknowledged it was not always easy.

“Helping pregnant women to give up smoking can be complicated, especially if they have been smoking for a long time,” she said. “To try and give these women the best chance to quit, trained antenatal staff and maternity specialists work with stop-smoking advisers who have the experience to support pregnant smokers and help them give up during their pregnancy.”

Live Well Suffolk offers specialist stop smoking clinics for pregnant women, which helps reduce the risk of many infant conditions linked with the habit, including cot death, chest infections and deafness.

Steven Lee-Foster, director of Live Well Suffolk, said: “Smoking during pregnancy has many risk factors and we would encourage mums-to-be to quit as early in the pregnancy as possible.

“The chemicals and carbon monoxide levels in each cigarette are very harmful to the unborn baby and can cause problems during pregnancy and after birth, where the child is at a greater risk of developing serious illnesses and long-term health issues like asthma.”

Mr Lee-Foster also acknowledged the difficulties in quitting smoking, especially during the stress of pregnancy, but said the organisation’s advisors were there to provide “non-judgmental support and guidance as well as positive encouragement to help you stay smoke-free”.

For information or advice call Live Well Suffolk on 01473 229292 or visit www.livewellsuffolk.org.uk For those living in the Waveney area, call The Yarmouth and Waveney service, run by East Coast Community Healthcare, on 0800 652 3477 or at eastcoastch.co.uk

If you have a story or issue for our new Investigations Unit please contact editor David Powles on 01603 772478 or email david.powles@archant.co.uk