For Mothers-To-Be, New Facts About Smoking and Birth Defects

For Mothers-To-Be, New Facts About Smoking and Birth Defects

By Alex Beall 07/14/11

A parade of grisly statistics about the devastating results of smoking while pregnant.

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Give your tyke a head start.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

Scientists and doctors have always discouraged smoking while pregnant, unsurprisingly, given that it leads to premature births and an increased risk of birth defects. But it wasn’t until recently that the relative percentage of specific defects due to smoking was actually pinned down. According to a study released this week in Human Reproduction Update, maternal smoking increases the risk of infant heart problems by 10%. Skull formation abnormalities are 33% higher in women who smoked during pregnancy. Instances of club foot and cleft lip or palate went up by nearly 30%, and missing or deformed limbs were up by 26%. Pregnant smokers also boost the risk of gastroschisis, a condition in which parts of the stomach or intestines protrude through the skin, by 50%. 


Scientists at the University College London examined observational studies from 1959 to 2010 about the effects of maternal smoking on the different stages of pregnancy. They found that cigarette smoke can have an impact on the embryo at any stage. While smoking among pregnant women has greatly decreased over the years, 10.7% of pregnant women still smoke, according to a 2005 study. There are an average of 6 million pregnancies in the U.S. each year, meaning that more than 600,000 babies could be suffering from smoke-induced defects. This new study provides more solid evidence for encouraging mothers-to-be, in every way possible, to quit the habit. In addition, non-smokers in America are exposed to secondhand smoke, pregnant women included. The study did not specifically address the exposure to secondhand smoke, but ingesting it could well be harmful to the developing child.