Smoke-free new mums initiative

The NHS maternity service in Suffolk and north east Essex has been shortlisted for a national award for an initiative which helps pregnant women and their partners quit smoking.

Since the local launch of the Smokefree Household Pregnancy Pathway over 1,000 pregnant women and their partners have managed to stop smoking, delivering big health benefits for parents and the prospect of longer, happier, and healthier lives for their new babies.

Smoking during pregnancy can have several implications, increasing the risk of miscarriage by 32%, stillbirth by 47%, and the risk of women having their baby early  by 27%.

Babies can also have feeding difficulties, asthma, and weight management difficulties as they become children.

They are also more likely to become a smoker themselves in adulthood, develop long term conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes.

Now the service in Suffolk and north east Essex has been shortlisted in the Maternity and Midwifery Services Initiative of the Year category at the Health Service Journal Patient Safety Awards, which celebrate and recognise initiatives that deliver better patient care and healthier outcomes.

First launched in north east Essex in November 2022 before being rolled out across Suffolk, the service sees a team of specially trained smoke-free midwives and support workers maintain regular and close contact with every pregnant woman who smokes or has recently quit smoking.

They offer one-to-one support and guidance during pregnancy and for six weeks after the birth of the baby.

They help the women and those they live with to make the decision to quit, provide them with nicotine replacement therapy or vapes, provide a behavioural programme, and look at the root causes of their smoking.

The midwives and support workers are non-judgemental and are there to help people through their journey to quit.

It is not always straight forward and different techniques and tools need to be tried, but the midwives and support workers are there to help find the right route for the family.

They also help with other factors which may lead to stress in the family’s life and ultimately make it hard to quit smoking, such as housing, financial concerns, anxiety, or low mood. 

Helen Bowles, Maternity & Neonatal Programme Manager for the NHS Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care Board, said: “We know that smoking has a hugely negative effect on the health of pregnant people and their babies, which is why we need to do all we can to help them quit.

“Nicotine is incredibly addictive, and many pregnant people know they need to stop, but feel embarrassed that they are still smoking.

“It is even harder if people in your home smoke whilst you are trying to quit. Smoke from others (second-hand smoke/passive smoking) and third-hand smoke (what’s left behind on clothes, furniture, skin when someone smokes) are also harmful to the baby.

“That is why this programme of sustained, non-judgemental support for the whole family to stop has so far proved very successful.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved and believe that over 1,000 babies have been born to parents who were previously smokers but took the decision to give their baby the very best start in life.

“The award shortlisting is a recognition of the hard work of the midwifery team and the determination of the parents to do all they can for their newborn child.”