One thousand pregnant women in the Hunter New England Local Health District smoked one to 10 cigarettes a day in the second half of pregnancy.
The latest NSW Mothers and Babies report revealed that in 2015 12.6 per cent of 9436 mothers reported smoking – almost twice the State average of 6.5 per cent. Manning, Great Lakes and Gloucester mothers are captured in the report as the HNELHD includes the Lower Mid North Coast region. The lowest smoking rate of 0.6 per cent was reported among mothers in the Northern Sydney Local Health District and the highest was reported among mothers in the Far West Local Health District with 26.1 per cent.
Professor John Wiggers, director of population health for HNELHD said “the rates are concerning” but added “overall our smoking rates are higher but are coming down.”
“It has dropped two per cent in the last 12 months for indigenous women,” Professor Wiggers said.
He advised the high rate of smoking in pregnant women “was generally higher across the State in rural NSW and lower socio-economic areas.”
“It does appear to be counter-intuitive that areas of lower income have higher rates of smoking but it an issue that is not unique to this health district.”
Smoking during pregnancy contributes to an increased risk of a broad range of obstetric and infant complications, including spontaneous abortion, pregnancy and labour complications, stillbirth, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome, according to the NSW Department of Health.
In addition to these risks from maternal smoking, exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke is also a risk during pregnancy and harms the mother and the developing baby.
Professor Wiggers said HNELHD was addressing the higher rates of smoking in women having an Aboriginal baby with the NSW government’s Quit for New Life program. It provides culturally appropriate smoking cessation support to Aboriginal pregnant women and their household members who smoke, including advice, behavioural strategies, referral to Quitline, up to 12 weeks free nicotine replacement therapy and extended follow-up support.
Mothers of non-Aboriginal babies are also assessed during antenatal visits during their pregnancy to stop smoking, are referred to Quitline and urged to consider nicotine replacement therapy. However, it is not provided free of charge.