Modern medical technology has made it easier for expecting parents to see what their baby looks like even before it is born. However, the same technology can also give us the answers on how unborn fetuses are affected by smoking.
Researchers have compared the high resolution 4D scans of fetuses of smoking and non-smoking mothers and they discovered distinctive differences in the movement rates.
The study was published in the journal Acta Paediatrica.
The researchers explained in their study the way they were able to discover the subtle fetal movements that previous methods failed to do so. The study lasted 3 months and included 20 pregnant women. 14 of the women were smokers who averaged 14 cigarettes daily and the others were non-smokers. During the 3 month period every woman was scanned four times.
When the researchers compared the movements on the high-resolution images they found differences. They also measured how often the fetuses touched their faces. The fetuses of smoking mothers had significantly higher movement rates than those of nonsmoking mothers. The researchers monitored the fetal movements and discovered that stress and depression also affected the movement rates.
Previous known effects of smoking while pregnant
- Decreased oxygen supply which affects neurological development of the fetus
- Reduced breathing frequency which results in delayed lung development
- Increased risk of pregnancy complications
- Tissue damage, especially in the brain and lungs
- Preterm delivery which is one of the main causes of death, disability and diseases in newborn babies
- 1 in 5 babies born to smoking mothers has low weight at birth. Also, mothers exposed to secondhand smoking are also at risk of giving birth to a baby with lower weight
- Increased risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
- Long term consequences due to altered immune function
- Double or triple risk of stillbirth
Effects of stress and depression on fetal movement
Since stress and depression are known to affect the fetus the study also accounted the mother’s stress levels. The researchers examined the fetus of a mother who suffers from chronic stress and they discovered that the fetus had jerkier arm movements. Higher stress levels could be a risk factor for developmental disorders in the uterus.
The women included in the study completed the Perceived Stress Scale questionnaire at each scan session. This way the scientist got the data they needed in order to assess the effects of smoking as well as those from stress and depression. After comparing all of the scans and carefully examining all the movement, the scientists came to a conclusion that fetuses of smoking mothers have much larger movement rate. This is due to the effects of smoking on the development of the central nervous system.
This kind of methodology has not been previously performed but provided a lot of proof.
However, in order to confirm the results and to investigate specific effects, a much larger study should be performed.
The lead author of the study published three papers and edited a book. The larger study has not started yet, but according to Dr. Nadja Reissland she is very keen on pursuing it as soon as she gets the secure funding and support from collaborators.