Skip to content

    Health & Pregnancy

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Smoking During Pregnancy May Damage Children's Blood Vessels

    Yet Another Reason Not to Smoke During Pregnancy
    By Rita Rubin
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    Dec. 26, 2011 -- If women didn’t already have enough reasons to quit smoking before pregnancy, here’s a big one: Smoking during pregnancy may set their child up for blood vessel damage, a new study shows.

    Dutch scientists enrolled more than 250 children. When the children were 4 weeks old, their body dimensions and lung function were measured. At the same time, their parents completed questionnaires about such factors as smoking during pregnancy.

    When the children were 5, the researchers used ultrasound to measure the thickness and flexibility of their carotid arteries, large blood vessels in the neck that supply blood to the brain. They also collected updated smoking information from their parents.

    The walls of the carotid arteries in 5-year-olds whose mothers had smoked throughout pregnancy were about 19 microns thicker -- about one to two times the thickness of a piece of cassette tape -- and 15% stiffer than those whose mothers had not smoked.

    If both parents smoked while they were in the womb, the children’s carotid arteries were nearly 28 microns thicker and 21% stiffer than those of children whose parents didn’t smoke during pregnancy. These changes may indicate damage to blood vessels that may affect their function, the study authors suggest.

    The scientists did not find an effect if only the father smoked during the pregnancy, or if the mother hadn’t started smoking until after giving birth.

    Smoking During Pregnancy vs. After

    “The challenge there was to show that it was really smoking in pregnancy” and not exposure to cigarette smoke afterward, researcher Cuno Uiterwaal, MD, PhD, says in an email to WebMD. “To further explore that, we did this study.”

    Uiterwaal, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands, says, “with our findings, we think that smoking in pregnancy does play an independent role, although we know that exposure of children to [secondhand] smoke is damaging in many areas.”

    “Smoking in pregnancy is bad for many reasons for the mother and certainly also for the child,” Uiterwaal says. “Our findings may well be another argument to quit during pregnancy. Many women do quit as soon as they know they’re pregnant, but not all do.”

    Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

    Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
    what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

    Today on WebMD

    hand circling date on calendar
    Track your most fertile days.
    woman looking at ultrasound
    Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
     
    Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
    The signs to watch out for.
    pregnant woman in hospital
    Are there ways to do it naturally?
     
    slideshow fetal development
    Slideshow
    pregnancy first trimester warning signs
    Article
     
    What Causes Bipolar
    Video
    Woman trying on dress in store
    Slideshow
     
    pregnant woman
    Article
    Woman looking at pregnancy test
    Quiz
     
    calendar and baby buggy
    Tool
    dark chocolate squares
    Slideshow