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23rd Mar 2015

Ultrasound scan images reveal harmful effects of smoking during pregnancy

The images may be used to encourage mums to give up smoking

Sive O'Brien

The harmful effects that smoking has on babies in the womb may be seen using 4D ultrasound scans, according to new research conducted by Durham and Lancaster University.

Studying the scan images, Dr Nadja Reissland monitored 20 mums attending the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, four of whom smoked an average of 14 cigarettes a day. After looking at their scans at 24, 28, 32 and 36 weeks, she detected that foetuses carried by women who smoked continued to show significantly higher rates of mouth movement and self-touching than those carried by non-smokers. This kind of movement in the womb tends to happen less frequently as more control is gained closer to birth; indicating that babies carried by women who smoke may have delayed development of the central nervous system.

The images, which show thousands of tiny movements in unborn babies faces, could be used to encourage mums to give up smoking if they are struggling to do so.

Co-author of the study, Professor Brian Francis said, “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.”

Dr Reissland, who hopes to expand the pilot study with a bigger sample, said that a larger study is needed to confirm the results and to investigate specific effects, including the interaction of maternal stress and smoking.