Disturbing Ultrasound Pictures Show How Unborn Babies React To Their Smoking Moms

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fetus-smoking-study-durhamWe know smoking while pregnant puts babies at risk, and now science is giving us a clearer idea of how it affects them while they’re still in the womb. The Independent reports researchers at Durham and Lancaster universities used 4D ultrasound technology to observe what happens to fetuses while their mother is smoking.

The study included 20 expectant mothers, four of whom were smokers and smoked at least 14 cigarettes per day, and recorded movements as the fetuses developed at 24, 28, 32, and 36 weeks. In all, they took 80 scans of the 20 fetuses and found that unborn babies of smoking moms touch their faces and move their mouths more frequently than others. From Durham University News:

“…fetuses whose mothers were smokers showed a significantly higher rate of mouth movements than the normal declining rate of movements expected in a fetus during pregnancy. The researchers suggested that the reason for this might be that the fetal central nervous system, which controls movements in general and facial movements in particular did not develop at the same rate and in the same manner as in fetuses of mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy.”

Dr. Nadja Reissland, the lead researcher, told The Independent larger studies will be needed to confirm the results. She also stressed that she did the study to help people better understand the effects of smoking, not to demonize the participants or any other smoking moms. Currently about 12% of expectant mothers in the UK are smokers.

While the images are jarring, it’s hard to know if this study will have much of an impact on smoking moms. The sample size is tiny, which makes it easy to dismiss the results, and a person who is truly addicted to smoking is unlikely to be moved by a few pictures of a baby scrunching up its face.

More comprehensive research is definitely needed, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know smoking is harmful to babies. It’s harmful to everyone and smokers already know that. People tell them all the time. With luck, future research will take it a step further and figure out better ways to actually help these moms and make it easier for them to give up the habit.

(Photo: Durham University News)