Carbon monoxide testing for all pregnant woman will save babies’ lives

Thursday 19 June 2014

The campaigning health charity ASH welcomes the news released today by the HSCIC that smoking rates among pregnant women have fallen to their lowest recorded level at 12%[1]. However, one baby a day is still dying in the UK as a result of mothers smoking during pregnancy[2]. In 2011, the Government set a national ambition to reduce smoking in pregnancy at a time when rates of smoking at time of delivery were 14%[3]. Yet with the current rate of progress, we are unlikely to meet the stated ambition to reach rates of 11% or lower by 2015.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended that Carbon Monoxide testing was an essential part of routine care for pregnant women in 2010[4]. However, uptake has been slow and many women are still not offered the test[2]. As well as identifying exposure to carbon monoxide from smoking itself, the test can also identify carbon monoxide exposure from second hand smoke or leaking gas fires and environmental pollution. Carbon monoxide from smoke or pollution gets into the mother’s blood and reduces oxygen reaching the baby, which can affect its growth[5].

Smoking rates among pregnant women in poor and disadvantaged groups and teenage mothers-to-be remain much higher than the general population. In the Infant Feeding Survey 2010, mothers in routine and manual occupations and those who had never worked were five times more likely to have smoked throughout pregnancy compared to women in managerial and professional occupations (20%, 21% and 4% respectively)[6]. This is a major concern as it causes higher rates of stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight and sudden infant death in babies born to mothers from disadvantaged groups compared to the general population[5].

Stopping during pregnancy is important and remaining smokefree after the baby’s birth is also critical. Exposure to tobacco smoke in the home damages babies and children, just as it does in the womb. Quitting smoking is one of the best things new mothers and their partners can to do protect their children’s health.

Commenting, ASH Chief Executive Deborah Arnott said:

“I am pleased to see that rates of smoking in pregnancy nationally are decreasing. However, with one baby a day dying in the UK as a result of mothers smoking during pregnancy, we must do more to tackle this issue. Midwives say they find Carbon Monoxide testing a useful way start a conversation about smoking with pregnant women. We know that where women are offered testing, they are more likely to quit. We want all women to be given that opportunity”.


Notes and links: 

ASH have produced a number of factsheets and reports on the issue of smoking during pregnancy which will provide further information on this subject:

Smoking Cessation in Pregnancy
The Impact of Secondhand Smoke on Children
– Factsheet on Smoking and Reproduction
– Factsheet on Secondhand Smoke in the Home

[1] HSCIC, Statistics on Women’s Smoking Status at Time of Delivery, England – Quarter 4, 2013-14

[2] ASH, Smoking Cessation in Pregnancy

[3] UK Governement, The tobacco control plan for England

[4] NICE, Quitting smoking in pregnancy and following childbirth (PH26)

[5] RCP, Passive smoking and children

[6] HSCIC, Infant Feeding Survey 2010