MORE than 11,500 babies a year in Wales are potentially affected by their mothers smoking during pregnancy, according to a health charity.

And ASH Wales is now calling for all midwives and health visitors to be trained to advise women about quitting smoking, as part of their pre-registration training, in a bid to boost the support available for women wanting or attempting to give up.

A third of mums-to-be in Wales smoke at some point during their pregnancy, against a UK average of just over a quarter (26 per cent), and ASH Wales says this exposes 11,500 unborn babies to harm from tobacco every year.

No figures are available for individual council areas in Wales, in terms of smoking during pregnancy, but this is likely to be an issue in some parts of Gwent, which have among the highest rates of smoking in the country. What evidence there is suggests that 14 per cent of pregnant women in Gwent smoke through their pregnancy.

Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, premature birth, low birth weight and miscarriage.

One-to-one support can be provided to pregnant women by Stop Smoking Wales, but rates remain stubbornly high.

“Wales continues to have the highest rate of smoking in pregnancy in the whole of the UK,” said ASH Wales chief executive Elen de Lacy.

“Giving up smoking is hard on its own but with the added pressures of having a baby it is doubly challenging, which is why extra support is vital for pregnant women to help them give up.

“Midwives and health visitors are able to build close relationships with women, at home and in the community, and are often the best placed to support women throughout their pregnancies and afterwards.”

Four health boards, including Aneurin Bevan in Gwent, have been piloting a new programme called MAMSS (Models for Access to Maternal Smoking Cessation Support) in which staff such as midwives and maternity support workers provide support to quit smoking in women’s homes.More information on MAMSS is available at