Babies of Smoking Mothers Have Smaller Brains

April 29, 2022 3 min read

Most parents want to give their child a good start in life, some mothers even going as far as blasting out a bit of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach or Brahms whilst the child is still swimming around in the womb hoping to increase the child cognitive abilities. Bringing up a child is one of the most demanding and difficult responsibilities an adult can undertake and to make things worse parents are thrown in at the deep end with little to no formal training.

Smoking Related To Reduced Brain Size

A recent study recently published by the journal Neuropsycharmacology was conducted with more than 200 children and found that the children whos mothers smoked regularly whilst the child was still in the womb had smaller brains and were more susceptible to stress and anxiety. It is thought that the tobacco could have affected normal development by destroying neurons and also limiting the amount of oxygen that goes to the foetus due to the narrowing of blood vessels.

If you were to walk the streets asking women their thoughts on a pregnant women smoking, I would assume that the majority of them would be educated on the dangers and would be against the idea, however around 25% of pregnant women report smoking during pregnancy.

Emotional Functioning Also Effected

Dr Hanan El Marroun, who conducted the study into the neurological affects smoking can have on children assessed the brains and also the emotional functioning of 113 children who were aged between 6 to 8 and whos mothers smoked regularly during pregnancy. The finding were then contrasted with that of another 133 children unexposed to the effects of smoking in the womb. The findings were astonishing.

Children who were exposed to cigarettes in the womb had smaller brains with a reduced percentage of grey and white matter. In addition these children showed signs or had emotional problems including anxiety and depression. The findings linked these to a smaller superior frontal cortex, the result of smoking, which is used in the brain to control a person’s mood.

In the past unrelated studies have also shown that smoking whilst pregnant can lead to spontaneous abortions and reduced growth.

Why Does Smoking Affect Brain Development?

There are two possible theories as to why smoking has this effect on a childs brain development, these are:

1. Through nicotine, brain development could be affected by the tobacco, disrupting the migrations of brain cells. This evidence has been backed up with animal studies.

2. When a woman smokes her arteries become restricted and clogged resulting in the unborn child being starved of oxygen and necessary nutrients – this in effect will have a impact on brain development.

Just in England alone hundreds of babies are born with defects that are directly linked to smoking. The information below shows percentage increase a baby has of developing deformities due to smoking.

Deformity & Percentage Increase

Missing or Deformed Limbs - 26%

Cleft Lip - 28%

Club Foot - 28%

Gastrointestinal Defects - 27%

Skull Abnormities - 33%

Eye Defects - 25%

Approximately 700,000 babies will have been born by the end of 2013 in England and Wales with around 120,000 of these with mothers that smoke.

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