Professor Nick Macklon, a gynaecologist at the Princess Anne hospital in Southampton, UK, has told the annual conference at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology this week that stopping smoking as late as when pregnancy is confirmed can mean that newborns avert many of the dangers faced by babies whose mothers smoke.
In a study of 50,000 pregnancies at Southampton hospitals between 2002 and 2010, women who gave up smoking early in their pregnancy had babies that were the same weight as those of women who did not smoke. The risk of premature birth was also reduced, as well as the risk of brain damage and congenital defects, such as cleft palate.
Professor Macklon said that a significantly higher birth weight was found in those babies whose mothers had stopped smoking right up to the 15th week of pregnancy:
“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.”
He also emphasised that the risks of disease in later life associated with a low birth weight were also reduced:
“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.”
After a report from Australian researchers last month found that smoking during pregnancy results in lower levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in children as old as eight years of age, this new study could encourage would-be mothers who smoke to give up as soon as pregnancy is confirmed, as there are clearly benefits to be gained.
Smoking is also known to be detrimental for women trying to conceive as it causes premature ageing of the ovaries, resulting in low fertility rates, early menopause and a higher risk of miscarriage.
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