A cancer charity has called on the Scottish Government to make helping pregnant women stop smoking a key focus of its new tobacco control strategy.
Cancer Research UK said ensuring expectant mothers can access local stop smoking services gives them the best chance of quitting the habit.
The call follows the publication of official statistics showing the number of women in Scotland smoking at the time of their first antenatal appointment has fallen to 15% in 2016/17, a total of 7,809 women and a drop of nearly a third (29%) since 1997/98.
Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, Professor Linda Bauld, said: “It’s encouraging to see the number of mums-to-be who smoke gradually declining in Scotland. However, the decline has been slow and there are big differences between groups, with smoking rates higher among teenage mums and women from more deprived areas.”
The Stirling University academic added: “Pregnancy provides a unique opportunity for women to stop smoking, not only for the health of their baby but also themselves. Stopping smoking helps reduce the risk of complications in pregnancy, and the likelihood of stillbirths or cot death. And it also reduces the risk of smoking-related cancers later in a mother’s life.
“The Scottish Government is due to release a new tobacco control strategy next year and helping more women to quit smoking while they are pregnant needs to be a key focus. In particular, we need to do all we can to make sure pregnant women can access local stop smoking services.
“These services offer women the best chance of kicking the habit, including supporting women who have tried other options and may consider using an e-cigarette in their quit attempt.”
The statistics also show an increasing number of mothers-to-be are overweight, with more than half (51%) in Scotland in 2016/17 overweight or obese at their antenatal booking appointment, while 45% were classified as a healthy weight.
Hospital records on stillbirths show an increase for the second year running to 209 in 2016/17 and the researchers said the reason for the rise “isn’t yet clear”.
The trend for women having their first child at an older age continues, with the majority (53%) of first-time mothers over the age of 30.
The peak maternal age for first births is lower in Scotland’s most deprived areas at 23, compared with 31 in the least deprived areas.
More babies are born to women in poorer places, with areas in the two most deprived categories counting for 46% of pregnancies in 2016/17 while places in the two most affluent categories had 35%.
Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “It’s really encouraging to see fewer women smoking while pregnant.
“Reducing these numbers further, especially in deprived areas, is a key priority, supported by the work of the Maternity & Children Quality Improvement Collaborative and the Children and Young People’s Improvement Collaborative which offers carbon monoxide monitoring to all pregnant women and onward referral to smoking cessations services where appropriate.
“Our current Tobacco Control Strategy sets out our vision for a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034 and recognises the importance of quitting smoking in pregnancy and in providing a smoke‐free environment before and after birth.
“This strategy will be refreshed in 2018.”