We all know that smoking is bad for us and can be especially harmful during pregnancy, but a new study from Lancaster and Durham Universities in the United Kingdom actually shows the effects smoking can have during pregnancy with the use of 4-D ultrasound.
After observing ultrasound scans, researchers found that fetuses whose mothers were smokers showed a significantly higher rate of mouth movements than the normal declining rate of movements expected during pregnancy.
Researchers suggested this may be due to the fact that the central nervous system of the fetus, which controls facial movements, did not develop at the same rate as fetuses whose mothers did not smoke.
While the study was a pilot study of only 20 fetuses, the findings don’t surprise Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist Michael Wolfe, MD.
“Smoking can contribute to higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirth and can affect placenta function which can impact the growth of the fetus,” says Dr. Wolfe.
Not only is smoking during pregnancy harmful to the fetus, but second-hand smoke can impact infants and toddlers who live with smokers. If an infant is raised in a home where smoking occurs there can be higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome and children can be susceptible to reactive airway disease or asthma.
If a woman who smokes becomes pregnant, Dr. Wolfe recommends they aim to cut down on the amount they smoke, especially if quitting “cold turkey” isn’t possible.
Another option is some form of nicotine replacement as they don’t have the other components in the tar that have detrimental health effects.
“I tell my patients that the single best thing a pregnant woman can do for her health, and the health of her baby, is to quit smoking,” Dr. Wolfe says.