WOMEN are now being screened for signs of a deadly chemical as part of Blackpool’s bid to cut the number of mums-to-be smoking.
The resort still has the highest rate in the country of pregnant women who light up – at 29 per cent.
But health bosses say this is the first time the figure has been below 30 per cent since records began.
Smoking while pregnant poses a higher risk of serious health problems to the unborn child, including low birth weight, pre-term birth, placental complications and even still-birth.
Nationally, the average rate of women who admitted smoking during pregnancy during 2011/12 was 13 per cent.
Fran Frankland, lead for reducing tobacco use in pregnancy with NHS Blackpool, said measures had been taken to try to tackle the problem.
Blackpool, which has high levels of deprivation, has a high rate of smokers across the general population.
She said a new scheme started in October which saw midwives trained to screen women for carbon monoxide – a poisonous gas in cigarette smoke, which takes the place of oxygen in the blood and causes damage to the body.
She said: “If they test positive, they are automatically referred to our specialist stop smoking service for support.
“They can opt out of this at any time of course, but the door is always left open for them to come back at any time.
“They are given information on the risks of smoking during pregnancy, so if a woman does choose to opt out, it’s not because she doesn’t know or isn’t aware of the issues. It’s for some other reason.
“This has been really useful for us to identify women who are smoking.
“We don’t have a specialist midwife here in Blackpool purely for women who smoke during pregnancy, because of the large numbers, but we do have a specialist stop smoking clinic.
“I think sometimes for some women, it’s a bit like the chances of winning the Lottery - they just don’t think it will happen to them.
“It’s trying to help them understand it may not have happened to their mum, or in their previous pregnancy, but it could still happen.”
It costs more than £10,000 to deliver what is termed as a complicated birth - in women who smoke during pregnancy, the placenta can be broken down, causing birth complications.
As the rate of women smoking in pregnancy has dropped by 3.5 per cent - that’s roughly a decrease of 48 women - there has been a potential saving of close to £500,000.
Ms Frankland added: “That’s without the emotional cost of babies having to be rushed off into neo-natal care.
“The work we’ve been doing is starting to have an effect so hopefully it will now grow.”
Dr Arif Rajpura, director of public health, added: “We have been working very hard on this for several years now.
“It is very gratifying to see the downward trend as this means far more babies get a healthy start in life.”