Smoking and pregnancy

There is extensive evidence showing that smoking during pregnancy can have devastating consequences for mothers and their babies. Smoking while pregnant has been associated with a number of adverse outcomes including stillbirth, preterm birth and low birth weight. In July 2017, the Department of Health introduced a target to reduce the prevalence of smoking in pregnancy to 6% or less by the end of 2022.

Has the percentage of women who are smokers at the time of delivery decreased?

The percentage of women who are known to be smokers at the time of delivery has been decreasing over time. In 2006/07, 15.8% of pregnant women were smokers and this decreased to 10.7% in 2016/17. Despite this 5% decrease in prevalence, the reduction in smoking rates among pregnant women has slowed in the past year with a percentage decrease of only 0.3%; this prompted concern from health charities. The previous target to reduce the percentage of women who smoke during pregnancy to 11% or less was met in 2015/16, and in July 2017 a new target was set to reduce the prevalence to 6% or less by 2022. This is part of the Department of Health's Towards a Smokefree Generation tobacco control plan for England.

Updated December 2017.

How has the smoking status of pregnant women and the number of maternities changed over time?

The absolute number of pregnant women who are known to be smokers at the time of delivery has also been decreasing in recent years. In 2016/17, about 65,000 pregnant women were known to be smokers, a decrease of over 25,500 women since 2006/07. However, the total number of maternities has also been decreasing from 665,000 in 2011/12 to 619,000 in 2016/17, representing an overall decrease of 6.8%.

Updated December 2017.

About this data

The number of maternities is defined as the number of pregnant women who give birth to one or more live or stillborn babies of at least 24 weeks gestation, where the baby is delivered by either a midwife or doctor at home or in an NHS hospital (including GP units). This count is the number of pregnant women, not the number of babies (deliveries). It does not include maternities that occur in psychiatric hospitals or private beds/hospitals.

Women known to be smokers at the time of delivery are defined as pregnant women who reported smoking (at all) at the time of delivery. Women known to be non-smokers at the time of delivery are defined as pregnant women who reported smoking no cigarettes (at all) at the time of delivery. This count does not include women whose smoking status is not known, or those who intend to give up smoking after delivery. Women whose smoking status was not known at the time of delivery are defined as those whose smoking status was not determined at the time of delivery for whatever reason.

From April 2017, the methodology used to calculate the proportion of women smoking at the time of delivery changed to exclude women with an unknown smoking status from the denominator. Therefore, the percentage calculation for smokers/non-smokers excludes women with an unknown smoking status. Data for all years was updated to reflect this method.

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