Incredible images of foetus show how babies exposed to cigarettes may have delayed development.
New ultrasound pictures show how babies of mothers who smoke during pregnancy touch their mouths and faces much more than babies of non-smoking mothers.
Foetuses normally touch their mouths and faces much less the older and more developed they are.
Experts said the scans show how smoking during pregnancy can mean the development of the baby’s central nervous system is delayed.
Doctors have long urged pregnant women to give up cigarettes because they heighten the risk of premature birth, respiratory problems and even cot death.
Now researchers believe they can show the effects of smoking on babies in the womb.
Dr Nadja Reissland, of Durham University, used 4-D ultrasound scan images to record thousands of tiny movements in the womb.
The study published in 2015, monitored 20 mothers attending the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, four of whom smoked an average of 14 cigarettes a day.
After studying their scans at 24, 28, 32 and 36 weeks, she detected that foetuses whose mothers smoked continued to show significantly higher rates of mouth movement and self-touching than those carried by non-smokers.
Foetuses usually move their mouths and touch themselves less as they gain more control the closer they get to birth, she explained.
All the babies in her study were born healthy, and were of normal size and weight.
“Our findings concur with others that stress and depression have a significant impact on fetal movements, and need to be controlled for, but additionally these results point to the fact that nicotine exposure has an effect on fetal development over and above the effects of stress and depression,” Resissland said.
Smoking during pregnancy can:
Increase the risk of preterm delivery
Cause low birth weight
Cause tissue damage in the lungs and brain
Prevent the baby from getting enough oxygen
Pregnancy and quitting smoking
Ideally, a pregnant woman should stop smoking. In reality, up to half of females quit when pregnancy is planned or confirmed. If you need help to quit, see your health professional for information and advice or call Quitline.
If you are finding it tough to stop smoking, don’t despair. There is evidence to suggest that stopping smoking by the fourth month of pregnancy can reduce some of the risks, such as low birth weight and premature birth.
Where to get help
•Quitline Tel. 13 7848 (13 QUIT)
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