A new medical test that has midwives and expectant mums fuming.


“Excuse me, ma’am, can you please get out of the vehicle and breathe into this device?”

“Um, of course but hold on a moment, I’m heavily pregnant.”

“Oh we know. This is a smoking breath test.”

Okay, so although it’s unlikely that the police force will be involved, a new UK proposal to ask women to take smoking breath tests will actually come into force later this year. When a woman has her first antenatal appointment with a midwife, the midwife will be asked to test the soon-to-be mother’s carbon monoxide levels.

The point of this test is to find out whether mothers are telling the truth about their smoking habits, so that if it’s necessary midwives can then provide ‘appropriate support’ to mothers to help them quit. However, mothers – and the midwives who will be expected to administer the test – have branded the proposal ‘utter meddlesome nonsense’ and ‘ill-judged’ respectively.

The Daily Mail reports:

Mothers were furious at the change, proposed by health watchdog NICE, with members of website Mumsnet branding the plans ‘utter meddlesome nonsense’ and ‘intrusive nannying’…

Although the tests will not be compulsory, mothers may feel obliged to take them after being asked to do so in hospital…. Louise Silverton, director of midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘It is a bit draconian.

‘They are asking us to test each pregnant woman for carbon monoxide on their very first visit… ‘It is not allowing women to say no or midwives to use their judgment. And it puts pressure on the first visit when a lot of women are already dealing with a lot of information and stress.’

The test will not be mandatory – women will only be asked to take the breath test, and they are perfectly within their rights to refuse – but some critics have said that the proposal is over-reaching by government.

Others are concerned that this sort of test paints pregnant women as child-like inferiors who cannot be trusted to tell the truth about their vices.

Another concern from mothers and midwives is this: If a woman denies she is a smoker when questioned but is then asked to take a breath test anyway, the trust between the soon-to-be mother and midwife will be broken.

Of course, the reason that this proposal has even been suggested is obvious: smoking is dangerous for a developing foetus. Very dangerous. Smoking during pregnancy has been associated with behavioral problems in children, such as short attention spans, as well as childhood diabetes and obesity.

Smoking while pregnant can also increase the risk of such heartbreaking occurrences as SIDS, stillbirths and miscarriages. But many women who are having trouble quitting, may have just as much trouble admitting this to a midwife and seeking support, because of the social stigma associated with smoking while pregnant.

NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) in the UK pointed out that, “This makes it difficult to ensure they are offered appropriate support. A carbon monoxide test is an immediate and non-invasive biochemical method for helping to assess whether or not someone smokes.”

Now this is the poms, but do we need a similar test in Australia?

According to research released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2011, 18 per cent of women continue smoking while pregnant. Positively, about 40 per cent of female smokers successfully quit when they discover they are pregnant – but the remaining 60 per cent find it difficult.

Would you support a smoking test for pregnant women?