Dangers of Smoking Mount

Smoking is even more harmful to your growing fetus than once thought.


Despite growing evidence of the toxic effects of cigarettes on fetal development, between 11 percent and 20 percent of pregnant women in the United States still smoke. "It can be much harder for pregnant women than others to quit smoking because they have added stressors in their lives brought on by pregnancy," says Cathy Melvin, Ph.D., chairwoman of the National Partnership to Help Pregnant Smokers Quit, located in Chapel Hill, N.C. In addition to prematurity, low birth weight and sudden infant death, smoking while pregnant has recently been linked to physical deformities, brain-development disorders and other health problems in children. Here's a rundown of the latest research and resources to help you quit:

Finger and toe anomalies Based on records of more than 6.8 million U.S. births during 2001 and 2002, University of Pennsylvania researchers found that smoking one to 10 cigarettes a day raised by 29 percent the chances of having a baby with extra, missing or webbed fingers or toes. The more a woman smoked, the higher the risk.

Tourette's syndrome An American Journal of Psychiatry study of about 175 people with Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary sudden movements or vocalizations, showed that smoking during pregnancy increased the severity of children's tics by 42 percent. Smoking while pregnant also was associated with an eightfold increased risk of obsessive-compulsive disorder in children.

Behavior problems A team of American and British scientists found that toddlers whose mothers smoked during pregnancy tended to have more behavioral problems--such as aggression and refusal to follow directions--than those born to nonsmokers. The Child Development study included 93 1- to 2-year-olds.

Early weaning An American Journal of Public Health study of more than 3,800 Oregon mothers concluded that women who smoked before, during and after pregnancy were more than twice as likely not to be breastfeeding their babies at 10 weeks than nonsmokers or women who quit during pregnancy.

Leukemia In a University of California, Berkeley, study of more than 700 children, researchers found that when fathers smoked, even before conception, the risk of their offspring developing acute myeloid leukemia in childhood nearly quadrupled. A weaker link was found to the more common acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Smoking by either parent after a baby was born also raised the risk.