An investigation into infant deaths in North Kirklees, Yorkshire has found high levels of smoking in pregnant women.

It follows statistics in 2005 that revealed the rate of babies in North Kirklees dying before their first birthday was almost double the national average.

Infant deaths in North Kirklees, published by the Kirklees Primary Care Trust, investigated all 106 infant deaths in the district between 2002 and 2005 to identify factors that might contribute to the increasingly high local rates.

It found that 31 per cent of pregnant women in Batley were smoking when their baby was born, compared to 18 per cent nationally.

Dr Judith Hooper, director of public health for Kirklees, who headed the study, said: "I, personally, am shocked at the high numbers of women who smoked right through their pregnancy, leading to low birth-weight babies."

The report found that congenital abnormalities and prematurity were the cause of more than two thirds of deaths in the area and that over half were of low birth weight.

Deborah Collis, assistant director or public health, said that the focus would now be on raising awareness of the issues, especially in Dewsbury and Batley where infant death rates were highest.

She said maternal behaviours needed to be addressed, particularly smoking and malnutrition.

In the summer the PCT will be launching a campaign to promote the message of healthy diet and lifestyle for the whole family.

The NHS is also in the process of a major review of maternity services, taking on board the report's findings, to increase support for families most at risk.

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