ALMOST one in ten women are putting the lives of their unborn babies at risk by smoking while pregnant.

New figures show 1,562 women across Sussex continued to light up during their pregnancy over a one-year period.

Cigarettes can increase the risk of miscarriage or premature birth and the baby could also be born smaller and have birth defects. Giving up smoking is said to improve the health of the mother and they are less likely to suffer complications when they go into labour.

A report published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre reveals that out of 16,066 pregnancies in the county between April 2013 and the end of March this year, 9.7% of mothers were still smoking throughout.

Numbers have fallen compared to the year before but some parts of the county have significantly higher rates than others. Research has shown that smoking tends to be more prevalent in areas with higher levels of deprivation, such as Hastings, compared to more affluent places, like Horsham.

Just 6.3% of women in Brighton and Hove, 185, still smoked, putting it among the best performing areas in the country. The national average is 12%.

All midwives in the city are trained to give brief advice to pregnant women on the health benefits of stopping smoking.

Pregnant women are also offered carbon monoxide readings at their first booking-in appointment. This alone can be a wake-up call and a huge motivation to stop.

The highest rate was in Hastings and Rother, where 19.2% of pregnant women, 342, were still lighting up, while East Sussex Downs and Weald stood at 11.9% and Coastal West Sussex 11.2%.

Horsham and Chanctonbury had the lowest rate in the county at just 5%.

The actual number could be higher because not every mother may admit that they are continuing to smoke.

An East Sussex County Council spokesperson said: “Stopping smoking is one of the best things a mother can do to ensure their child enjoys a healthy start in life. Latest data shows that whilst we have seen a very small reduction in the percentage of women who smoke during pregnancy in Hastings and Rother, it continues to be significantly higher than for England overall and is a major area of concern.

“We would urge all pregnant women or women who smoke and are thinking of having a baby to contact our local stop smoking service on 0800 622 6968, text the words ‘smokefree’ to 66777, email, or speak to their GP, midwife or healthcare professional.”