Plan to cut stillbirths by screening for smoking

How would you feel if you, as a mum-to-be, and your partner, as a dad-to-be, were told you were going to be checked to see if you were having a sly cigarette?

Would you think it was sneaky or an invasion of your privacy? Or nannying you?

Better get used to it.

All pregnant women will be asked to take a carbon monoxide test in hospital to see if they – or their partners – smoke as part of a drive to persuade thousands to quit when a baby is due.

The dangers of smoking in ­pregnancy are well-known: stillbirth, heart defects and low birth weight.

But more than one in 10 expectant mothers, 65,000 a year in England alone, still smoke during pregnancy – though many don’t admit to it.

From July, doctors, midwives and nurses will routinely screen all ­pregnant women at 12 weeks and 36 weeks in an effort to cut the number of stillbirths by half by 2025.

Smokers will also be advised on how to kick the habit and be offered specialist help to quit within 24 hours.

Those whose tests show they smoke will be retested at every appointment.

The tests will be able to detect if the woman’s partner smokes and whether they live in a smoke-free home.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, added: “Stillbirth is heartbreaking, which is why the NHS, through the skill and professionalism of our midwives, nurses and doctors, is taking action to ensure an even greater number of parents and babies experience a healthy birth.”

Some hospitals already offer smoking tests at 12 weeks, but all will now be ordered to do so at both 12 and 36 weeks.

About nine babies are stillborn every day, according to the charity Tommy’s, which says the risk is 52% higher in women who smoke 10 ­cigarettes a day.

Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands, a stillbirth and neonatal death charity, said the strategy “will protect babies’ lives and ensure fewer families suffer grief and loss”.

Clare Livingstone, of the Royal College of Midwives, said reducing smoking in pregnancy was “one of the key things that has to be done to reduce the UK’s stillbirth rate”.

But pregnant mums need support that will encompass the whole family.

Secondhand smoke is just as damaging to an unborn baby or a child and so the ­partners of pregnant women who smoke also need help to quit so that children can grow up in a ­smokeless house.