MAKING pregnant women feel bad about boozing and smoking doesn't help them quit, experts warned.

If anything, it just makes them hide their dangerous habits.

It can lead to mums-to-be smoking and drinking in secret, rather than seeking help.

A new study by experts at Cardiff Uni found women said they would hide their habits from midwives, as well as their partners.

Dr Aimee Grant, lead author of the new study, said: "Moral judgements are commonly directed towards mothers through reference to health behaviour in pregnancy, and working-class mums are particularly subject to this criticism, ignoring the challenges of living on a low income.

“Our study shows that these looks and comments – including by members of the public - irritate and alienate pregnant women, making them less likely to seek help.

"No one wants to be judged and shamed.”

The findings suggest less judgement of mums-to-be may actually help them seek the help they need to quit booze and fags.

Women taking part were asked about the reactions they experienced.

Many said they had experienced negative judgements when drinking or smoking in public while pregnant.

But they admitted it just meant they did it at home instead.

And many women said they felt judged by midwives when it came to drinking and smoking in pregnancy, and so felt they couldn't ask for help.

Many of the mums-to-be thought smoking at home was an acceptable thing to do - despite thinking it was unacceptable in public.

Some smoking mums-to-be even said they would judge other pregnant women who smoked in public.

Condemnation of those who smoked in public during pregnancy was not restricted to cigarettes; one e-cigarette user also experienced judgement from strangers.

Dr Dunla Gallagher, a member of the study team, said: “Pregnant women are no longer seen as their own person and stigma arises where other people feel that pregnant women should be able to focus all their energy and priorities on the baby that they carry, rather than their own needs.

"However, for some of these women their primary goal is often just getting by on a very low income, which is no mean feat, and smoking is a coping strategy for some of them.

“Rather than stigma, women need empathy and a recognition of the challenges that pregnancy can bring in terms of women's independent choices.”

Dr Grant added: “If we want to design services that will be regularly accessed, and make a real difference to maternal health behaviours, we need to consider the subjective experiences and challenges pregnant women face in negotiating acceptable forms of motherhood.

"We will then have informed policy and practice which engages rather than isolates potential users of health services.”

The new findings are published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth and was supported by Wellcome.