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Scientists reveal 4D ultrasound images of fetuses while moms smoke

Ontario's health minister says he is confident that even if an obstetrics unit in the Leamington hospital closes, women and babies in the area will receive high-quality care.
“This is yet further evidence of the negative effects of smoking in pregnancy,” said a researcher of the new study. Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty

New research is providing a snapshot into the womb of expectant moms who smoke during their pregnancy. The harmful effects of mother’s smoking are shown on the unborn baby’s face.

British researchers out of Durham University put together 4D ultrasound scans on 20 fetuses – four belonged to mothers who smoked an average of 14 cigarettes per day, while the rest of the moms were non-smokers.

The ultrasounds were taken at four different times during the 24-week to 34-week period.

Photo courtesy Durham University
Photo courtesy Durham University Photo courtesy University of Durham

Photo: 4-d scans showing a sequence of movements displayed by two fetuses at 32 weeks gestation. The top image shows movements in a fetus whose mother is a smoker and the bottom set of images is of a fetus whose mother is a non-smoker.

“Technology means we can now see what was previously hidden, revealing how smoking affects the development of the fetus in ways we did not realize,” co-author Brian Francis said in a press release.

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“This is yet further evidence of the negative effects of smoking in pregnancy,” he said.

READ MORE: Newborn baby’s smell is as addictive as drugs or food

In the ultrasounds, the fetuses with moms who smoked showed much more mouth and arm movements compared to their peers with non-smoking mothers.

The doctors say that this might be a sign that the fetuses with moms who light up could have a delayed central nervous system. As the unborn babies mature, the typical trajectory would include a declining rate of movement.

Previous research has even tied a delay in speech processing skills in babies to exposure to smoke during pregnancy, the researchers warn.

The good news is that all 20 babies were healthy when born.

READ MORE: Do babies inherit junk food addictions from their moms?

Health Canada warns that smoking in pregnancy could put you and your baby at risk.

“Cigarette smoking by pregnant girls and women has been shown to increase risks of complications in pregnancy and to cause serious adverse fetal outcomes, including low birth weight, still births, spontaneous abortions, decreased fetal growth, premature births and sudden infant death syndrome,” the government agency says on its website.

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The study’s full findings were published this week in the journal Acta Paediatrica.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca