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Research on Smoking and Your Pregnancy

LONDON (Reuters Health) - Smoking during pregnancy damages the placenta and reduces levels of a crucial growth hormone, resulting in smaller babies with smaller brains, British researchers said recently.

"The profound effects of smoking on fetal development are irreversible and may cause impairment in the health and well-being of the offspring in later life," said Dr. Peter Hindmarsh at the British Endocrine Societies annual meeting in Glasgow.

"In particular, the reduced brain size that we saw in smokers' babies could lead to impaired cognitive ability of the child," he said.

Hindmarsh and colleagues at University College London studied 1,650 expectant mothers, including about 200 smokers, throughout their pregnancy.

They measured blood flow between the fetus and placenta and monitored levels of a group of hormones called insulin-like growth factors (IGF), which are essential for fetal growth and organ development. After birth, the researchers weighed the newborns and measured their head size, which is an indicator of brain size.

The harm caused by smoking during pregnancy is well known, but this was the first study to put together all the elements of reduced blood flow, IGF levels and fetal growth, Hindmarsh told Reuters Health.

The researchers found that blood flow in the artery joining the fetus to the placenta was lower in women who smoked, causing damage to the placenta and restricting the delivery of essential nutrients.

They also showed that the amount of IGF in umbilical cord blood was reduced according to how many cigarettes the mother smoked. For example, IGF-1 levels were an average of 70.2 nanograms per milliliter of blood in nonsmokers, compared to 60.7 nanograms in women who smoked 20 cigarettes or more a day.

"What we're talking about are reductions of about 10 to 15 percent (in IGF levels), producing rather similar reductions in overall birth size, birth length and head growth," Hindmarsh told Reuters Health.

Low birth weight has been linked to a number of health conditions in adulthood, including an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and infertility.

The latest study also included a group of women who only quit smoking when they discovered they were pregnant. Placental function, IGF levels and the size of the babies were all normal for those women, Hindmarsh said (wow - now that's encouraging!)

"This shows it is worth thinking about stopping, because even in a very short time like pregnancy you aren't going to set the baby up for the same sort of problems as if you persist," he said.














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