A MAJOR push to reduce smoking during pregnancy and cut the number of new mothers suffering severe haemorrhages after birth is being launched in Scotland today.
The aim of the Maternity Care Quality Improvement Collaborative is to tackle inequalities and make services safer and more positive for women, babies and families, the Scottish Government said.
Every health board will also get its own “maternity champion” to drive forward improvements as part of a £1 million investment.
The programme, part of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme, will focus on two main areas – getting more women into smoking-cessation services and reducing the numbers of women who suffer severe bleeding after birth, which can be fatal.
Dr Catherine Calderwood, Scottish Government senior medical officer for women’s and children’s health, said figures showed that 18 per cent of pregnant women continued to smoke in pregnancy.
But this rose to 32 per cent of those in the most deprived communities, compared to 6 per cent in the most affluent.
Dr Calderwood said the NHS wanted to do more to help women stop smoking and stressed that it was never too late during pregnancy to quit and see benefits to the baby.
“There is a smoking message that has got to some pregnant women in Scotland but not to others,” she told The Scotsman. “There are overall poorer outcomes in these women. We know that if you stop smoking in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, you have the same risks as a non-smoker because the placenta is the issue and that is not fully formed by 12 weeks.
“But also, if you give up smoking during pregnancy, within four weeks the changes in the placenta go back to normal.”
Those who continue to smoke will be urged to cut down and also offered extra scans.
Dr Calderwood said the programme would help moves to achieve a 15 per cent reduction in stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2015. One in 200 births is currently a stillbirth.
“We believe we can reduce stillbirths by reducing smoking because the risks are higher if you are a smoker,” she said. “There are also public-awareness messages and education for women and healthcare professionals. The rate of stillbirth is higher in more deprived communities than in the wealthy.”
Dr Calderwood said evidence showed that the management of post-partum haemorrhage – bleeding after giving birth – had been improving in recent years.
But she said there was still room for further improvement to make sure the latest guidance for managing women was followed to prevent them going on to suffer more severe haemorrhage.
Figures show that one in 170 women will suffer a major obstetric haemorrhage – a serious bleed at some point during the pregnancy or birth. In 2011, 385 women in Scotland suffered such a major bleed.
“The rate is actually increasing and we think it is increasing because we have more at-risk women having babies,” Dr Calderwood said.