LONDON — A study involving 4D images from ultrasound scans is revealing how researchers say the development of unborn babies can be affected when their mothers smoke.
Research conducted by Durham University, Lancaster University and Dr. Nadja Reissland monitored 20 mothers, four of whom smoked an average of 14 cigarettes and day, and 16 of whom did not smoke.
The results were published in the Acta Paediatricia journal.
As part of the study, scans were made of the mothers at several phases of their pregnancy.
Scans of unborn babies whose mothers smoked showed a “significantly higher” rate of mouth movement. Those babies also touched their faces more, which can be a sign of delayed development. Generally, there is a decline in facial touching and mouth movements in the normal development of an unborn baby.
As the pregnancies progressed, the differences between the two groups of unborn babies widened.
“Fetal facial movement patterns differ significantly between fetuses of mothers who smoked compared to those of mothers who didn’t smoke,” Reissland said.
“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,” said co-author Brian Francis of Lancaster University. “This is yet further evidence of the negative effects of smoking in pregnancy.”
The babies involved in the study were all clinically assessed and were healthy when they were born, according to Durham University.
Reissland said she would like to eventually like to use the research as a benefit to patients — to show mothers the videos made out of the scans showing the frequencies in touch of their unborn babies.