DURHAM COUNTY, United Kingdom — A study of ultrasound scans is revealing how the development of unborn babies can be affected when their mothers smoke during pregnancy. Research conducted by Durham University, Lancaster University and Dr. Nadja Reissland monitored 20 mothers, four of whom smoked an average of 14 cigarettes a day.
Ultrasound scans of unborn babies whose mothers smoked showed a “significantly higher” rate of mouth movement than the normal declining rate of movements expected in a healthy fetus. Researchers said one reason might be the fetal central nervous system did not develop at the same rate and in the same manner as in fetuses of mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy.
“Fetal facial movement patterns differ significantly between fetuses of mothers who smoked compared to those of mothers who didn’t smoke,” said Dr. Reissland.
Similar to other studies, research shows maternal stress and depression also have a significant impact on fetal movements, but the increase in mouth and touch movements was even higher in babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy.
“Technology means we can now see what was previously hidden, revealing how smoking affects the development of the fetus in ways we did not realize,” said co-author Brian Francis, of Lancaster University. “This is yet further evidence of the negative effects of smoking in pregnancy.”
The babies involved in the study were all clinically assessed and were healthy when they were born, according to Durham University.
Researchers said additional studies are needed to examine the relationship between smoking and fetal development.