Pregnant women harming unborn babies through obesity and smoking

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Too many pregnant women are overweight or smoking

High numbers of Fife mothers-to-be are endangering their unborn babies through smoking and being overweight.

Almost half of pregnant women were either overweight or obese at their first maternity appointment, while 35% of expectant mothers from the region’s most disadvantaged areas were still smoking.

The official figures have been described as worrying by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which has called for more help for women to make healthy life choices.

Dr Mary Ross-Davie, RCM director for Scotland, said: “Women who are overweight in pregnancy are more likely to experience diabetes, there are increased risks of complications with their babies and a higher rate of caesarean sections.

“Smoking in pregnancy also brings with it a range of problems, with an increase in babies being born too early and too small and an increased risk of stillbirth.”

NHS Fife’s Department of Public Health Annual Report revealed nearly 30% of women in Fife were overweight at maternity booking, plus 25% were obese, the second highest rate in mainland Scotland.

The 2016 figures are the most recent available.

The report added that the pattern of smoking during pregnancy in Fife is strongly related to inequalities, with smoking among expectant mothers from the most disadvantaged areas eight times greater than those in the most prosperous parts.

Dr Ross-Davie said: “These are worrying figures.

“We know that both being overweight and smoking are both linked to women living with poverty and deprivation. The figures from Fife bear this out with a much higher rate of obesity and smoking among the most deprived women.

“The Scottish Government and health boards need to redouble efforts to reduce health inequalities and increase the support available to women to make healthy life choices before and during pregnancy.”

The doctor called for more preconception advice as well as more investment in midwifery services to give midwives the time to advise women “consistently and effectively”.

Dr Margaret Hannah, NHS Fife’s director of public health, said all women with a BMI of 30 or above were offered additional support in pregnancy, including one-to-one support with a dietician and a weekly support group.

Carbon monoxide testing at every maternity appointment highlights tobacco risks and women who smoke are offered referral to a specialist midwife-led service.

Aileen Campbell, minister for public health and sport, said quitting smoking and providing a smoke-free environment before and after birth were key parts of a strategy designed to ensure all children get the best start in life.

“Our draft obesity strategy contains a package of bold measures, including improvements to the way in which services support women.” she said.

“We have continued to invest in our midwife services and increased the student midwifery intake for 2018/19, the sixth successive annual increase.”

The Courier reported in December that in Tayside, 28% of pregnant women were overweight at the first maternity booking and 22% were obese.

In addition, 21% of women were still smoking at first booking, the highest rate in the country and marginally ahead of Fife.