Smoking during pregnancy can put mums and babies at risk

February 15, 2008

A British report suggests smoking while pregnant may be less damaging to a fetus than many people have been led to believe.

Pregnant women who suffer from the high risk condition pre-eclampsia — which leads to the death of hundreds of babies every year — are putting the lives of their unborn children at significantly increased risk if they continue to smoke during pregnancy.

But experts at The University of Nottingham have also shown that if women give up smoking before or even during pregnancy they can significantly reduce these risks.

The study linking smoking and pre-eclampsia was carried out by the Genetics of Pre-Eclampsia Consortium (GOPEC) and was funded by the British Heart Foundation. The results have just been published in the journal Hypertension.

Fiona Broughton Pipkin, Professor of Perinatal Physiology at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the School of Human Development, said: “Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are the second most frequent cause of death in pregnancy in this country and cause an estimated 70,000 deaths worldwide among pregnant women each year. In 2005 742 babies died as a direct result of pregnancy hypertension in England and Wales. Ten times this number are delivered prematurely for the same reason. They risk short-term breathing problems, potential brain damage and long-term cardiovascular disease. The deaths are the tip of an iceberg for hospital admissions and worry for mothers, babies and families.”

Professor Broughton Pipkin led a multicentre cohort study of 1001 white Western European women with moderate to severe pre-eclampsia and their babies. It found that smokers in this group are even more likely to deliver prematurely (before 34 weeks), produce much lower birth weight babies, or have babies with adverse outcomes than women who don't smoke. Smokers were also five times more likely to develop eclampsia.

Of the 1001 women in the study:

-- 34.8 per cent who smoked delivered before 34 weeks — compared with 26.8 per cent of former smokers and 21.3 per cent of non-smokers.

-- 46.1 per cent who smoked had low birth weight babies — compared with 37.5 per cent of former smokers and 27.9 per cent or non-smokers.

-- 65.6 per cent who smoked had babies who experienced adverse outcomes — compared with 60 per cent of former smokers and 50.4 per cent of non–smokers.

Ellen Mason, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: "Research like this study from The University of Nottingham is vital to help us understand the full effects of lifestyle choices on our heart and circulatory health and that of our children. Smoking is clearly potentially very harmful to mother and baby, and we need to support women in quitting at every stage of pregnancy.”

Professor Broughton Pipkin said: “Although a recent article suggested that smoking in pregnancy is less damaging to the unborn baby than commonly supposed, GOPEC argues that smoking CAN make a bad situation worse for both mother and baby in pre-eclampsia. However, stopping smoking limits the damage.

“I feel very strongly that pregnant women should be encouraged as actively as possible to stop smoking, and this paper provides yet more reasons why.”

Smoking during pregnancy is recognised as a major public health problem. Around 30 per cent of pregnant women smoke and researchers say it can cause significant health problems in the unborn child. It accounts for around 4000 fetal deaths (including miscarriages) every year and it can lead to premature births, low birth weight, cot death and asthma. It is also associated with attention deficit and learning problems in childhood.

In a separate study researchers at the University are currently recruiting 1050 pregnant women for the most extensive trial of its kind to establish the effect of using nicotine patches during pregnancy. The £1.3m clinical trial — Smoking, Nicotine and Pregnancy (SNAP) trial — will investigate whether nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is safe, effective and cost-effective for mums-to-be who want to give up smoking. It will also study the effect on the behaviour and development of the child.

Source: University of Nottingham

Explore further: Budget cigarettes linked to higher infant mortality rates in EU countries

Related Stories

Budget cigarettes linked to higher infant mortality rates in EU countries

September 18, 2017
Scientists already know that high cigarette prices reduce smoking rates, and that levels of smoking affect infant mortality. However until now, there have been no studies to explore the link between cigarette price differentials ...

Skin lightening: the dangerous obsession that's worth billions

September 4, 2017
Millions of people across the world want to make their skin lighter – but the treatments they use can be dangerous. Mary-Rose Abraham meets beauticians, dermatologists and their clients to walk the line between aesthetic ...

Study reveals costs of maternal health

August 10, 2017
New research from The Australian National University (ANU) has for the first time identified and quantified the factors pushing up maternal health costs in the New South Wales public hospital system, paving the way for better ...

The uncertain future of genetic testing

July 18, 2017
AnneMarie Ciccarella, a fast-talking 57-year-old brunette with a more than a hint of a New York accent, thought she knew a lot about breast cancer. Her mother was diagnosed with the disease in 1987, and several other female ...

Tobacco control plan for England published

July 21, 2017
The Department of Health has published its long-awaited Tobacco Control Plan for England .

How to get to a world without suicide

August 1, 2017
After his son's suicide aged 18, Steve Mallen sees the world differently. Along with a growing number of mental health experts, he wants to reduce the rate of suicide across the world, and is aiming for zero. Simon Usborne ...

Recommended for you

80 percent of activity tracker users stick with the devices for at least six months

September 26, 2017
Use of activity trackers, such as wearable devices and smartphone apps, is on the rise, and a new study shows that 80 percent of users stuck with the device for at least six months. Though the gadgets may help motivate users ...

Study finds being in a good mood for your flu jab boosts its effectiveness

September 25, 2017
New research by a team of health experts at the University of Nottingham has found evidence that being in a positive mood on the day of your flu jab can increase its protective effect.

New tool demonstrates high cost of lack of sleep in the workplace

September 25, 2017
Sleep disorders and sleep deficiency are hidden costs that affect employers across America. Seventy percent of Americans admit that they routinely get insufficient sleep, and 30 percent of U.S. workers and 44 percent of night ...

Maternal diet could affect kids' brain reward circuitry

September 25, 2017
Researchers in France found that rats who ate a junk food diet during pregnancy had heavier pups that strongly preferred the taste of fat straight after weaning. While a balanced diet in childhood seemed to reduce the pups' ...

Exercise can make cells healthier, promoting longer life, study finds

September 22, 2017
Whether it's running, walking, cycling, swimming or rowing, it's been well-known since ancient times that doing some form of aerobic exercise is essential to good health and well-being. You can lose weight, sleep better, ...

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.