Fertility and pregnancy

Pregnant women continue smoking to have smaller babies

Pregnant women continue smoking to have smaller babies Detrimental to baby's health

Some women continue to smoke through pregnancy because they want to give birth to a smaller baby, according to a new study.

This is despite "overwhelming evidence" that smoking during pregnancy is harmful to the unborn baby, said Professor Nick Macklon of Southampton University.

“It is important that people who believe that a smaller baby means an easier birth take into account the increased risks of complicated deliveries in smokers as well as the risk of disease later in life which goes with low birth weight, he told a conference of fertility experts.

In the largest study of its kind, the researchers tracked more than 50,000 pregnancies and births in the Southampton area, recording the babies birth weight and mothers' smoking habits.

They analysed seven groups of women, including non-smokers, those who stopped more than a year prior to conceiving, those who stopped less than a year prior to conceiving, smokers who stopped once the pregnancy was confirmed and those who continued to smoke.

They found that women who gave up smoking at the time of conception or when their pregnancy was confirmed gave birth to babies with a similar weight to those born to mothers who had never smoked, cutting the risk of complications associated with low birth weight.

"Not only was birth weight much better in this group than it was in the groups where the mothers had continued to smoke, but we also found that the babies reached the same gestational age and head circumference as those born to women who had never smoked," the professor said.

He also added that healthy development during pregnancy without exposure to smoke also helps to limit the chances of premature birth, which can cause brain damage and congenital defects such as cleft lip and lead to other illness in later life.

He concluded: “Mothers who smoke are encouraged to stop smoking when they become pregnant but, to date, there was little evidence that giving up at this late stage could have a positive effect on birth weight, so we can now give couples hard proof that making the effort to stop smoking once pregnancy is confirmed is beneficial for their baby.”

The study findings were presented at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Stockholm, Sweden.

This article was published on Fri 8 July 2011

Image © Kavita - Fotolia.com

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