Smoking related to birth defects

I would like to address the tobacco subject again in this blog in hope to convince more people to stop smoking. This week I read that British doctors have determined that if a woman smoked while she was pregnant, the risk for her baby having missing or deformed limbs, or a cleft lip increases by 25%!

Some would think that the risk remains low, and others would argue that their own mother smoked while she was pregnant. But it’s up to each woman to decide whether to take that chance or not.

A baby born with missing limbs would have life long challenges to adapt with society and live a normal life. But being a dentist myself who normally notices oral problems, the cleft lip defect related to smoking caught my attention immediately.

Cleft lip

A cleft lip looks like a fissure of the upper lip near the centre of the face. It can reach the nose or even affect part of the palate. Those defects can lead to other problems such as ear infections, speech and feeding problems, and having trouble maintaining a normal social life.

A baby born with a cleft lip can have aesthetic surgery as soon as 10 weeks after birth to correct the defect. Orthodontic treatment might also be required later on in life with cases of cleft palate if the jaws and teeth are affected are misaligned.

Other smoking impacts

Other than cleft lips and missing limbs, it is important to address all the problems related to smoking during pregnancy. Many chemicals in tobacco smoke, such as nicotine and carbon monoxide, are passed on to the baby through the placenta.

Here are some bad impacts on babies if their mother smoked while pregnant:

  • Nicotine increases a baby’s heart rate and breathing movements.
  • During pregnancy, mothers who smoke have a greater risk of miscarriages.
  • During the birth, smoking mothers are more likely to have complications.
  • The chances of a baby’s dying at birth or shortly thereafter are increased if the mother has smoked during pregnancy.
  • Some of the chemicals passed on through the mother’s blood are known to cause cancer.
  • Babies of women who smoked or were exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke during pregnancy are, on average, smaller at birth than babies of non-smoking mothers. Smoking mothers give birth to infants who weigh less than babies from non-smoking mothers. Newborns with a lower-than-average birth weight are more likely to get infections and have other health problems.
  • There is a clear relationship between the number of cigarettes smoked during pregnancy and a slowdown in the growth of the foetus. These babies are also more prone to perinatal complications, illnesses and death.

My own mother smoked while she was pregnant with me and I turned out fine. Unfortunately she passed away from lung cancer. But when she was young, like all people of her generation, she didn’t know all the health hazards caused by smoking that we know today.

I hope this article will convince some women not to smoke when they are pregnant, or even better, to quit completely.

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