If all the research about the links between smoking and health problems like lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke, as well as the associations between smoking and its impact on infertility, preterm delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight, and SIDS haven’t been enough to convince you to kick the habit, maybe this will. A new review of dozens of past scientific studies has definitively linked smoking with certain serious birth defects including heart defects, missing or deformed limbs, gastrointestinal disorders, and facial disorders.
The study, “Maternal smoking in pregnancy and birth defects,” was published online today in the journal Human Reproduction Update from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, and is the first-ever comprehensive systematic review conducted to examine which specific birth defects are associated with smoking. The research team reviewed observational studies published between 1959 and 2010, including 101 different research studies. Dr. Michael Katz, senior Vice President for Research and Global Programs of the March of Dimes, a leading non-profit organization devoted to pregnancy and baby health, says the study “tells us specifically how bad smoking is.”
Among the birth defects definitively linked to maternal smoking were increased risk of:
- heart defects
- limb reduction defects—the absence of severe underdevelopment of the hands, feet, radius, tibia, ulna or fibula
- digit anomalies—missing, fused or extra fingers or toes
- cleft lip or palate
- eye defects
- gastrointestinal defects like gastroschisis, anal atresia, and umbilical/inguinal/ventral hernias
Additionally, the review found evidence that women who smoke are more likely to have a baby with two or more defects.
Although the review included a few surprises about the possible benefits of smoking, for example a reduced risk of skin defects like pigmentation disorders and moles, Dr. Katz said that the “overwhelming trend is that [smoking] is harmful,” and the takeaway message is that, “Any woman who is pregnant and smokes endangers not only herself, but her unborn child.”
According to data presented at the 2009 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Mumbai, about 250 million women worldwide use tobacco daily. In the U.S., about 20% of women reported smoking in 2009, and despite the known risks, many women still smoke during pregnancy.
If you were a smoker, did you quit during pregnancy? Would these findings compel you to quit?