smoking and pregnancy

Smoking while pregnant puts both mother and baby at risk of significant harm to their health.

Position Statement

We need to ensure that pregnant women who smoke have specific cessation and prevention programmes tailored to their needs, have appropriate referral interventions, midwives trained in tobacco cessation, and access to effective and equitable cessation services and products to support them in quitting for the benefit of their health and that of their child.

Whilst Public Health Wales is trialling a number of initiatives to engage more effectively with pregnant smokers, it remains the case that there is currently a lack of systematic service delivery to support pregnant smokers to quit right across Wales.

11,864 unborn babies in Wales are exposed to harm from tobacco each year.

Carbon monoxide (CO) reduces the amount of oxygen to the placenta and causes harm to the baby

16% of pregnant women in Wales will continue to smoke throughout their pregnancy

Smoking causes both short-term and long-term problems


Every time a pregnant woman smokes a cigarette, she inhales carbon monoxide (CO) which reduces the amount of oxygen to the placenta and causes harm to the baby1.

Smoking causes both short-term and long-term problems, from premature delivery to increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth or sudden infant death2.

Short-Term Problems Long-term problems
Pre-term birth Learning difficulties eg. Autism
Pre mature membrane rupture Hyperactivity
Placenta previa Ear, nose and throat problems
Placental abruption Obesity
Small for gestational age Diabetes
Still birth Ectopic Pregnancy
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Our Smokefree Baby & Me campaign page has lots of support and information for mums-to-be.

Women who smoke at initial pregnancy assessment (10 weeks), by Health Board

In 2017 the Welsh Government created a new dataset, Maternity Statistics Wales,  which presents data on the percentage of women at initial assessment (10 weeks) who smoked.

The stats below are for 2015 to 2016 and the whole-Wales average stands at 18.4%

Health Board % who smoke during pregnancy
Abertawe Bro-Morganwg 17.5%
Aneurin Bevan 20%
Betsi Cadwaladr 18.6%
Cardiff & Vale 14.6%
Cwm Taf 24%
Hywel Dda 16.1%
Powys  18%

Although women are more likely to attempt to quit smoking when pregnant3, research shows that 16% of pregnant women in Wales smoke throughout their pregnancy.4

Research shows that 11,864 unborn babies in Wales are exposed to harm from tobacco each year.

Wider research

% of women, by nation, who smoked during pregnancy


United Kingdom 17%
England 17%
Scotland 20%
N.Ireland 18%
Wales 22%


United Kingdom 12%
England 12%
Scotland 13%
N.Ireland 15%
Wales 16%

% were smokers but gave up during pregnancy


United Kingdom 48%
England 49%
Scotland 44%
N.Ireland 43%
Wales 41%


United Kingdom 54%
England 55%
Scotland 52%
N.Ireland 47%
Wales 50%

Second-hand smoke exposure: ante and post natal

Some women may be exposed to second-hand smoke via a friend or a family member. This can cause significant health risks once a child is born including respiratory problems such as asthma, birth defects such as cleft lip and hearing problems such as glue ear.

Second-hand smoke in an enclosed environment such as the home or a car is particularly damaging to younger children who cannot escape from the smoky environment.

The Models of Access to Maternal Smoking cessation Support (MAMSS) project, which was conducted in Wales, aimed to evaluate how well smoking cessation programs were being delivered to pregnant women. The scheme aimed to increase the proportion of pregnant women who engage with stop smoking services5.