Women have been urged to give up smoking during pregnancy in the light of new research.
|New research has provided further evidence of a link between mothers who smoke during pregnancy and poor infant health.
The study conducted by researchers at the March of Dimes California Research Division and institutes in Norway, Holland and Texas examined serum samples collected from around 500 pregnant women between 2003 and 2005 - some of whom smoked and some of whom did not.
Uniquely, the study did not rely upon the women to reveal whether they smoked or not during their pregnancy but instead measured for the presence of toxic substances in their blood.
In an attempt to understand the relationship between maternal smoking and certain birth defects, it was discovered that the consequences involve higher rates of prematurity as well as numerous other risks.
Women who smoked during their pregnancy were also found to be more than twice as likely to have babies with oral clefts - a defect which requires significant medical care and may affect speech, hearing and feeding problems, the researchers noted in the study to be published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Dr Jennifer L Howse, president of the March of Dimes, said: "The message to women is simple and clear: Don't smoke during pregnancy or even if you are considering becoming pregnant.
She added that women must be assisted in their battle to quit smoking.
"This research supports our 2008 Petition for Preemies, which calls on federal and state officials to include smoking cessation programs as part of maternity care. If we can help mothers quit smoking, we can help give more babies a healthy start in life," she said.