Smoking in pregnancy linked to specific birth defects

12 July 2011

Researchers have called for women to be better informed about the increased risks of birth defects as a result of smoking during pregnancy.

The researchers analysed a total of 172 research papers that reported the effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy, covering 11.7 million healthy births and 174,000 with birth defects. They estimate that smoking is responsible for several hundred cases each year in the UK. Smoking was associated with an increased risk of 25-50% for a range of birth defects including absent or malformed limbs including clubfoot (talipes), malformations of the skull and face including cleft lip and palate, eye and gastrointestinal defects.
 
Professor Charles Rodeck of UCL Institute for Women’s Health commented: "The results of this research are of the greatest significance for the health of mothers and babies and for public health policy. If the recommendations are implemented, they will lead to a reduction in the incidence of several common malformations".
 
Comment: Many birth defects arise from interacting genetic and environmental factors; whilst smoking in pregnancy may not be the sole cause of a birth defect, it can clearly substantially increase risk. This research shows that even in countries such as the UK where the incidence of birth defects is very low compared with global levels, it is still possible to make changes such as information given to mothers that could further reduce the number of babies born with serious physical problems. The new Born Healthy community is calling for action worldwide to tackle birth defects.

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