New research has linked smoking during pregnancy to babies suffering birth defects such as missing and deformed limbs as well as clubfoot.
The study found that pregnant women who smoke increase the risk of their child being born with a serious malformation by up to 50%. The authors from the University College London say the levels of smoking in pregnant women is "staggeringly high" and that measures need to be taken to reduce the numbers of smoking expectant mums.
Shockingly. although smoking has already been linked to a higher risk of a pregnant woman having a miscarriage or her baby being born prematurely or with a low birth weight, 45% of women under 20 smoke and one in seven is still a smoker when she gives birth.
Smoking and Birth Defects
The researchers looked at 174,000 cases of birth defects and concluded that for women who smoke whilst pregnant "the risk was increased by 26% for having a baby with missing or deformed limbs, 28% for clubfoot, 27% for gastrointestinal defects, 33% for skull defects, 25% for eye defects and 28% for cleft lip/palate."
The biggest increase in risk for a smoking, pregnant woman was for her baby having a birth defect called gastroschisis - a condition where part of the baby's stomach or intestines protrude through the skin.
One of the researchers said: "Now we have this evidence, advice should be more explicit about the kinds of serious defects such as deformed limbs, and facial and gastrointestinal malformations that babies of mothers who smoke during pregnancy could suffer from. The message from this research is that women should quit smoking before becoming pregnant, or very early on, to reduce the chance of having a baby with a serious and lifelong physical defect".
Janet Fyle, from the Royal College of Midwives, said the new research highlighted that smoking both before conception and while pregnant damaged both the mother and her unborn baby's health.
"Women thinking of becoming pregnant; pregnant women and women with young children should be told about the negative effects of smoking and the impact on their long-term health and that of others living in the home. Midwives should advise women who smoke to give up smoking and refer them to stop smoking services to help them quit," said Fyle. "Partners should also consider this as a good time to consider giving up smoking."
The Department of Health said women who smoked while pregnant should give up. "Smoking in pregnancy is a major public health concern posing risk to both mother and their baby's health".