Report highlights risk to babies of mothers who smoke

Despite well-documented health risks, some women are still smoking during pregnancy, particularly younger women, says a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's (AIHW) National Perinatal Statistics Unit.

The report, Smoking and pregnancy, was commissioned by the National Advisory Group on Smoking and Pregnancy as part of a national strategy to reduce smoking in pregnancy.

Using data collected from five states and territories (New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory) the report shows 17.3% of women who gave birth in 2003 reported having smoked while pregnant.

'Smoking during pregnancy was most prevalent in teenage mothers (42.1%) compared to 10.9% of mothers aged 35 years and older,' said Dr Elizabeth Sullivan, Director of the National Perinatal Statistics Unit located at the University of New South Wales.

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander mothers in the five jurisdictions had a much higher smoking rate, with 52.2% reporting having smoked during pregnancy-over three times the rate among non-Indigenous mothers.

Pregnant women living in very remote areas had the highest smoking rate at 38.3%, compared with 14.0% of women living in major cities reported smoking while pregnant.

The likelihood of preterm birth, at less than 37 weeks gestation, was 60% higher for babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy, than for babies of mothers who did not smoke.

Smoking is a potentially preventable risk factor that is associated with low birthweight (less than 2,500 grams).

In 2003, the proportion of liveborn, low birthweight babies of mothers who smoked was 10.6%, about twice that for babies of mothers who did not smoke. The average birthweight for liveborn babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy was lower than that of mothers who did not smoke (3,181 grams compared with 3,413 grams).

'A key message from this report is that, with approximately one in six Australian women and one in two Indigenous women smoking during pregnancy, there is great scope for improving the health of mothers and babies if these smoking rates can be reduced,' Dr Sullivan said.

16 August 2006

Further information: Dr Elizabeth Sullivan, AIHW NPSU, tel. 02 9382 1064.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.