Smoking during pregnancy is causing around 2,200 premature births, 5,000 miscarriages and 300 stillbirths every year in the UK, according to estimates made by the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group.
The coalition of health groups and charities have demanded the Government takes urgent action to decrease rates of smoking in pregnancy.
Francine Bates, chief executive of the Lullaby Trust, said: “Recent progress is great news but there is still much work to be done. Smoking in pregnancy remains the largest modifiable risk factor in sudden infant deaths, which devastates families.
“It is the most vulnerable who will be hit hardest if we do not do more to dramatically reduce the rates of smoking in pregnancy.”
The smoking in pregnancy rate has now fallen below 11% across England, but these figures show it is still having a major impact on the health of pregnant women and their babies.
Dr Nitin Shori, GP partner and medical director of the Pharmacy2U online doctor service, told HuffPost UK Parents: “It is always worthwhile taking whatever steps possible to quit smoking, particularly if you are trying to become pregnant.
“Most people know that smoking causes harm to an unborn child. The fact that people smoke when they are pregnant is evidence of just how addictive smoking is and how hard it can be to give up."
The smoking in Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group wants the Government to set a new national ambition to reduce smoking in pregnancy to less than 6% by 2020.
Dr David Richmond, president of the Royal College of Gynecologists, told PA: “We support the national ambition to halve smoking in pregnancy rates by 2020.
“As obstetricians we see first-hand the devastating effects of miscarriage, premature births and stillbirths caused by smoking in pregnancy.
"Stopping smoking is the most important thing a pregnant woman can do to improve her baby’s health, growth and development and reduce unnecessary pregnancy complications.
“The huge variation in smoking in pregnancy rates across the UK is shocking.
"The reasons why pregnant woman continue to smoke is complex and those living in the poorest parts of the country need the greatest support to help them access stop smoking services and be supported in their efforts to quit smoking for good.”
The Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group is made up of 20 organisations including Action on Smoking and Health, Bliss, the Faculty of Public Health, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Nursing.
The Lullaby Trust, Tommy’s and the RCOG are also involved.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “We know that local services to help support pregnant women quit smoking are under threat and the in-year cuts to the public health budget will only make this worse.”
Quitting Smoking During Pregnancy
No matter how far into your pregnancy you are, it is never too late to make the decision to give up cigarettes.
The sooner you quit the better, but even if you only stop in the last few weeks of your pregnancy your baby will still benefit.
Some medications used to help people stop smoking are not safe during pregnancy, but there are many quitting aids that mums-to-be can use safely:
“The prescription drugs which can help people to quit smoking, for example Champix, are not appropriate during pregnancy," Dr Shori explains.
“The safest way to give up smoking during pregnancy is to use one of the many nicotine replacement products, including gums, patches and inhalators.
"Available either over the counter, from a pharmacist, or from a GP, they are much safer than continuing to smoke cigarettes and exposing yourself and your unborn child to the many toxins that are present within tobacco smoke.”
The NHS offers free specialist support to help you stop smoking while pregnant. You can ask your midwife, GP or local pharmacist for more information, or call the NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline on 0800 123 1044 (open 9am-8pm Monday to Friday and 11am-5pm at weekends).