HUNDREDS of pregnant mums in Oxfordshire have admitted to smoking during pregnancy this year, despite the damage is can do their unborn children.

Health officials say they need to step up efforts to stub out smoking amongst expectant mothers, with women from deprived areas at particular risk of complications caused by cigarettes.

New NHS Digital data shows eight per cent of mums who gave birth between April and September in the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group area were smokers – representing 238 out of the 3,165 maternities recorded during that time.

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This was higher than the six per cent target the Government wants CCGs to meet by the end of 2022.

Health experts continue to warn against smoking during pregnancy due to the serious health problems it can cause.

They include complications during labour and a raised risk of miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and sudden, unexpected death in infancy.

Despite the dangers, only 28 of 191 CCGs in England are already below the incoming target.

With 10 per cent of mothers across the UK known to be smokers at the time of delivery, the Department of Health and Social Care has acknowledged that it 'must do more' to bring the levels down.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of charity Action on Smoking and Health, warned parents: "Smoking during pregnancy is a leading cause of still birth, miscarriage and birth defects.

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"The proportion of women smoking during pregnancy nationally has stuck at just over one in 10 for years now, and in some areas is as high as one in four. This is a disgrace, and demands urgent action."

The British Lung Foundation cautions that smoking's dwindling popularity still poses problems for policymakers.

"As smoking rates fall, the remaining smokers are likely to be those who need the most help," said Rachael Hodges, the health charity's senior policy officer.

"Stop smoking services benefit people from disadvantaged communities where smoking rates are typically higher."

However, 'harsh cuts' to public health funding have left CCGs and councils struggling to offer this support, she added.

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Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, chief midwifery officer for England, said smoking while pregnant was a pointless risk.

She said: "Having a baby in this country is now safer than ever but smoking while carrying a baby puts both parent and child at avoidable and potentially deadly risk.

"No woman should have to experience the heartbreak of stillbirth, and quitting smoking is absolutely vital for a healthy mum and a healthy baby.

"The NHS Long Term Plan sets out a programme of measures including stop smoking classes for all pregnant women, which will make giving birth even safer, and build on progress in NHS care which has helped reduce stillbirths by 20 per cent."

Clinical Commissioning Groups are boards made up of GPs from across a county who between them agree how NHS cash should be spend in their area.