An Upsetting New Study Reveals More Women Are Continuing To Smoke While Pregnant

There are plenty of things pregnant women are encouraged not do, in order to protect both their health and their baby's health. One activity that tops that list is smoking cigarettes, which experts recommend against doing while pregnant across the board. However, new data shows that rates of pregnant women smoking are going up — and it's reportedly the first time this has happened on record.

The Mirror shared the updated statistics, which were published by NHS Digital, an England-based health information and technology center. NHS Digital's study shows that in 2016/2017, 10.7 percent of pregnant women in England were smokers at the time of their delivery. The following year, in 2017/2018, 10.8 percent of pregnant women were smokers when they delivered.

These statistics mark a .1 percent increase in smoking pregnant women across England. Even though a .1 percent increase may seem small, it's still very significant — as the Mirror pointed out, this is the first time England has seen this number go up at all. England's ambition is to have 6 percent (or, ideally, less) of pregnant women smoking by 2022, according to the study.

Smoking cigarettes during a pregnancy has been proven to present a number of serious health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Information (CDC), smoking can make it more difficult to get pregnant; it can prevent a fetus from getting enough oxygen, which could cause a miscarriage; it increases the likelihood of preterm delivery; it can cause a baby to be born underweight; it increases a baby's chance of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); and it can weaken the baby's lungs. Additionally, WebMD adds that smoking while pregnant can increase the baby's heart rate; increase the chances of a stillbirth; and increase the risk of various birth defects.

If you are not a smoker, it is still important to be aware of secondhand smoke. The smoke that burns off of cigarettes and cigars contain substances including tar, carbon monoxide, and nicotine, which can be even more harmful than what a smoker is directly inhaling, WebMD added.

Why is the rate of pregnant women smoking on this incline in England? According to the British Lung Foundation, the number of cessation aids (tools to help people quit smoking) prescribed in England has decreased by about 75 percent between 2005 and today, the Mirror reported. Alison Cook, a spokeswoman for the British Lung Foundation told the Mirror that "the Government must act urgently" to fix this pressing problem.

The rise in pregnant smoking women could also have to do with where the subjects live. NHS Digital published a visualization tool showing all 207 Clinical Commissioning Groups in England, and whether or not they met met the national goal of 6 percent (or less) of women who smoked at time of delivery. Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are "clinically-led statutory NHS bodies responsible for the planning and commissioning of health care services for their local area," according to its website. Only 35 of the 207 CCGs met that national ambition — most of them being in the London area, interestingly.

So, how does England plan to remedy this issue? Sharon Hodgson, the Shadow Minister for Public Health, told the Mirror: “The Government must prioritise public health and make sure high quality, well resourced local services are available.” Hazel Cheeseman, the Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, agreed. “The failure to support mums-to-be to quit puts babies’ lives at risk," she told the outlet.

If you or someone you know needs to quit smoking, here are resources from SmokeFree.Gov, and more tips from BabyCenter specifically regarding quitting smoking during pregnancy.