Women urged to quit smoking to save babies

Updated: 2011-07-13 09:54


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LOS ANGELES - All women planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant should quit smoking now to reduce their chance of having a baby born prematurely or with a serious birth defect, the March of Dimes Foundation (MDF) said on Tuesday.

It has been established clearly that maternal smoking causes a range of serious birth defects including heart defects, missing/deformed limbs, clubfoot, gastrointestinal disorders, and facial disorders (for example, of the eyes and cleft lip/palate), said the MDF.

Smoking during pregnancy is a risk factor for premature birth, said Dr. Michael Katz, senior vice president for Research and Global Programs of the MDF.

Babies who survive being born prematurely and at low birthweight are at risk of other serious health problems, including lifelong disabilities such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and learning problems, Katz said.

Smoking also can make it harder to get pregnant, and increases the risk of stillbirth, Katz said, citing the first-ever comprehensive, systematic review of all studies over the past 50 years.

The new study, "Maternal smoking in pregnancy and birth defects: a systematic review based on 173,687 malformed cases and 11.7 million controls," was conducted by a team of British researchers. The study is published online Tuesday in Human Reproduction Update from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

When women smoke during pregnancy, the unborn baby is exposed to dangerous chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar, Dr. Katz said. These chemicals can deprive the baby of oxygen needed for healthy growth and development.

About 20 percent of women in the United States reported smoking in 2009. Around the world, about 250 million women use tobacco every day and this number is increasing rapidly, according to data presented at the 2009 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Mumbai.

Based in White Plains, New York, the MDF is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

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