IT CAUSES stillbirth and complications for babies but that didn't stop 164 Dorset mums who gave birth in the first three months of this year from carrying on smoking during their pregnancies.

According to NHS Digital data, 11 per cent of the mums who gave birth from January to March in the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group area were smokers. That's 164 out of the 1,570 women who gave birth during that time and is an increase on the 10 per cent of the 1,631 births during the same time last year.

The figures are also five percentage points higher than the six per cent target the Government wants CCGs to meet by the end of 2022.

Across England, a total of 145,876 mothers gave birth during the same three months. Of these, 10 per cent were self-reported as smokers, down from 11 per cent one year earlier meaning Dorset has bucked the national trend, too.

The NHS says that only 33 out of 191 CCGs in England met the national target and it warned that smoking during pregnancy can cause serious health problems, including complications during labour and an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, still birth, and sudden unexpected death in infancy.

Policy manager at charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Vicky Salt, said: “These national figures show a slight decline in rates of smoking during pregnancy compared to last year, however much more must be done to address the big variations in prevalence rates between local areas.

“Government must go further, and faster, if it is to achieve its national ambition to reduce smoking at time of delivery.

“This should include greater use of financial incentive schemes to support quitting and action to reduce smoking rates in women of childbearing age.

“Any delay will have a real cost in babies’ lives.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: "While the number of women smoking in pregnancy is at a record low, too many women from deprived areas are still at risk of suffering the tragedy of a stillbirth or complications as a result of smoking.

“We know we must do more. We are determined to reduce these levels to 6% by 2022 and as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, every smoker admitted to hospital will be offered specialist support to quit smoking, with an emphasis on pregnant women and their partners.”

The news comes less than six months after a Poole Hospital midwife received a prestigious nursing award for the work she's done to support expectant mums who want to stop smoking.