4-d ultrasound scans showing a sequence of movements displayed by two fetuses at 32 weeks gestation which shows fetal movements in a fetus whose mother is a smoker (top) and a fetus whose mother is a non-smoker (below)
Scientists now are convinced they are able to show the impact of smoking on babies in the womb, and want to use the images to inspire mothers that are unable to give up.
It’s actually not the very first time that expecting mothers have been urged to quit smoking, as smoking can raise the risk of premature birth, respiratory problems as well as cot death.
Dr Nadja Reissland has studied moving 4D scan images and recorded thousands of tiny movements in the womb.
She watched 20 mothers attending the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, four of whom smoked an average of 14 cigarettes a day.
After studying their scans at 24, 28, 32 and 36 weeks, she discovered that foetuses whose mothers smoked continued to show considerably increased rates of mouth movement and self-touching compared to those carried by non-smokers.
Foetuses usually move their mouths and touch themselves less, as they gain more control the closer they get to birth.
The pilot study, which Dr Reissland wishes to expand with a bigger sample, established that babies carried by smokers could have delayed continuing development of the central nervous system.
The research, conducted by Durham and Lancaster University, is published in the journal Acta Paediatrica.
Dr Reissland, from Durham’s Psychology Department, said: “A larger study is needed to confirm these results and to investigate specific effects, including the interaction of maternal stress and smoking.”
She thought that videos of the difference in pre-birth development could help mothers give up smoking.
But she was against demonising mothers and called for more support for them to give up. Currently, 12% of pregnant women in the UK smoke but the rate is over 20% in the Durham, Darlington and Tees area.
All the babies in her study were born healthy, and were of normal size and weight.
Dr Reissland, who has an expertise in studying foetal development, thanked the mothers who took part in her study, especially those who smoked.
“I’m really grateful, they did a good thing,” she said. “These are special people and they overcame the stigma to help others.”
Co-author Professor Brian Francis, of Lancaster University, added: “Technology means we can now see what was previously hidden, revealing how smoking affects the development of the foetus in ways we did not realise.
“This is yet further evidence of the negative effects of smoking in pregnancy.”