An ultrasound study recently published in the medical journal Acta Paediatrica has thrown some light on how smoking can affect unborn babies.
The researchers studied 20 mothers with scans taken at 24, 28, 32 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Four of the 20 mothers smoked an average of 14 cigarettes a day. The other 16 mothers were non-smokers.
The study found that foetuses of smoking mothers had a 58% increase in mouth movement and 69% increase in touching their mouths.This is in contrast to normal foetal development.
Foetal movement usually decreases as the foetus gets older. Hence, the the higher rate of movement in the foetuses of smoking mothers may indicate a lag in the development of their central nervous system compared to foetuses of non-smoking mothers. However, all the babies were delivered with no obvious health problem.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Nadja Reissland of Durham University's Department of Psychology, hopes to replicate the study with 60 smoking and 60 non-smoking mothers to identify the specific ways smoking affects foetal development.
Pregnant women are advised not to smoke. Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to complications such as, miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, birth defects and placenta problems.