MORE than 100 babies could suffer irreparable harm in Swindon after it emerged that nearly 15 per cent of all pregnant women in the town were still smoking at the time of giving birth earlier this year.

In the last quarter of 2013/2014 no fewer than 103 expectant mothers were found to be smoking at the time of delivery. This represented 14.6 per cent of all pregnant women about to give birth at the time.

This was the highest rate of smoking mothers in the Bath, Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire area, which stood overall at 11.3 per cent and two per cent higher than the national average of 12 per cent.

The alarming figure raised concerns among health professionals who warned of the dangers of smoking during pregnancy for the foetus.

Cigarettes can restrict the essential oxygen supply to the baby, so their heart has to beat harder every time their mother smokes.

On average, babies of smokers are 200g lighter than other babies. A low birth weight adds to the risks of stillbirth, and makes babies weaker and at greater risk of disease with a higher risk of hearing loss, learning difficulties and sight problems, as well as cerebral palsy.

As they grow older, they are more likely to get infections, such as inflammation of the middle ear, and have health conditions that require hospital treatment, such as asthma.

Cherry Jones, Swindon Council acting director of public health, said the local authority was determined to raise awareness of the risks for expectant mothers.

“Smoking in pregnancy can cause various serious health problems for the baby, such as low birth weight, premature birth and placenta complications,” she said. “It can, tragically, even result in death. “That’s why we are committed to reducing its prevalence in Swindon and have measures in place to achieve this. “These latest quarterly figures are a concern and we are working with the SEQOL Swindon Stop Smoking Service, local GPs and the maternity service at GWH to ensure women have all the information and support they need.

“For instance, we have a specialist midwife who provides one to one support for women who want to stop. “All pregnant women also receive stop smoking information from their community midwife, who offer advice and support, explain the dangers and refer to the specialist service. “Overall, 80 per cent of women who use this service successfully quit, although the service is optional.

“We therefore continue to raise awareness of the harmful effects of smoking both for the mother and baby, and the help available. “Pregnant women who receive support are more likely to quit, so I encourage them to call on the support, which is free and proven to be effective.”

Not only is smoking harmful to the unborn child but it can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy.

Quitting means mothers-to-be will have less morning sickness and fewer complications in pregnancy, and can reduce the risk of stillbirth. It will also reduce the risk of cot death, which is increased by at least 25 per cent by smoking during pregnancy.

For more information and advice about how to quit call freephone 0800 3892229 or 01793 465513, text 07881281797 or email