Smoking in Pregnancy Linked to More Serious Birth Defects

Smoking has long been documented as heightening the risks of infertility, pre-term delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But new research is linking smoking with additional, serious birth defects including heart defects, missing or deformed limbs, gastrointestinal disorders and facial disorders, as well as increasing the odds of emotional and behavioral disorders by as much as 50 percent.

The study, which was published in the Human Reproduction Update journal, reviewed over 100 research studies conducted from 1959 and 2010. According to, the following defects were found to occur in higher rates among the babies of smokers.

  • heart defects
  • limb reduction defects—the absence of severe underdevelopment of the hands, feet, radius, tibia, ulna or fibula digit anomalies—missing, fused or extra fingers or toes
  • clubfoot
  • cleft lip or palate
  • eye defects
  • gastrointestinal defects like gastroschisis, anal atresia, and umbilical/inguinal/ventral hernias

Additionally, the review found evidence that women who smoke are more likely to have a baby with two or more defects.

Although the review included a few surprises about the possible benefits of smoking, for example a reduced risk of skin defects like pigmentation disorders and moles, Dr. [Michael] Katz [of the March of Dimes] told CNN that the "overwhelming trend is that [smoking] is harmful," and the takeaway message is that, "Any woman who is pregnant and smokes endangers not only herself, but her unborn child."

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