4D Ultrasound Scans Show Babies Grimacing In Womb As Mothers Smoke

The harmful effects of smoking while pregnant has been long known, but still some expectant mothers find it difficult to put the cigarette away for the safety of their unborn child. Now, 4D ultrasound scans allow us to witness the damaging effects of smoking on fetuses.

In these scans, the unborn baby is seen ‘grimacing’ as the mother smokes — and researchers seek to use these images to help deter expectant mothers from continuing the perilous habit.

Smoking during pregnancy study
4-d ultrasound scans showing a sequence of movements displayed by two fetuses at 32 weeks gestation, which shows fetal movements in a fetus whose mother is a smoker (top) and a fetus whose mother is a non-smoker (below). PA

The pilot study, which was published in the journal Acta Paediatrica, was conducted by researchers from Lancaster and Durham universities.

Professor Brian Francis of Lancaster University spoke in regards to the breakthrough of the 4D ultrasound scans.

“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. This is yet further evidence of the negative effects of smoking in pregnancy.”

By observing the 4D ultrasound scans, the researchers noticed that the unborn babies of the smoking mothers showed a significantly higher rate of mouth movements than the fetuses of non-smoking mothers.

The study included monitoring 20 mothers, four of whom smoked a total of 14 cigarettes per day. And, according to Dr. Nadja Reissland of Durham’s Psychology Department, from their scans at 24, 28, 32, and 36 weeks, she detected that the fetuses of the smoking mothers moved their mouths more and touched themselves more than babies of non-smoking women.

Maternal stress and depression were also shown to have a major impact on the increased mouth and touch movements in unborn babies. However, fetal activity was significantly more in babies of smoking mothers.

Fetuses closer to their birth are found to have more control over their actions and usually touch themselves and move their mouths a lot less frequently.

“Fetal facial movement patterns differ significantly between fetuses of mothers who smoked compared to those of mothers who didn’t smoke,” said Reissland who has an expertise in the field of fetal development.

“Our findings concur with others that stress and depression have a significant impact on fetal movements, and need to be controlled for, but additionally these results point to the fact that nicotine exposure per se has an effect on fetal development over and above the effects of stress and depression.

“A larger study is needed to confirm these results and to investigate specific effects, including the interaction of maternal stress and smoking,” she added.

In relation to this study, other research has proven that smoking not only harms egg quality, hastens menopause, and reduces the chance of becoming pregnant, but it also increases the dangers of a premature birth.

Thankfully, the babies who were a part of this study were all born healthy with normal weight and size.

[Image: Dr. Nadja Reissland/PA Wire]