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For years doctors and scientists have warned that smoking is bad for our health. For pregnant women, the potential health risks extend to the unborn child. Known risks for babies of women who smoke while they are pregnant include the possibility of birth defects, miscarriage, or premature delivery. A recent study published in Human Reproduction Update provides more specific information on both the types and the severity of birth defects that are likely caused by smoking.
Although science has made general statements about birth defects caused by smoking for many years, researchers at University College London set out to determine more specifically which birth defects can be attributed to smoking while pregnant. The research team pulled information from 172 research papers accumulated over 50 years. The study included over 174,000 cases where babies were born malformed as well as 11.7 million children born without birth defects. They concluded that smoking increased the risk for babies to be born with these defects:
• Eyes: Babies born to women who smoked had a 25 percent higher risk of eye defects.
• Limbs: The risk of a baby having missing or deformed arms or legs was 26 percent higher for women who smoked.
• Gastrointestinal defects : Babies had a 27 percent higher risk of stomach and intestinal problems.
• Clubfoot: The risk of a baby having a clubfoot was 28 percent higher.
• Cleft lip or palate : Babies were at 28 percent higher risk of having a cleft lip or palate if mom smoked while pregnant.
• Skull: The risk of skull defects was 33 percent higher for babies born to women who smoked.
• Gastroschisis: The risk was 50 percent higher that a baby would be born with part of the stomach or intestine outside the abdomen or protruding through the skin.
Ongoing campaigns from the healthcare community have brought about declines in smoking in recent years. However studies show that the decline in smoking among high school girls has dropped off.