When a pregnant mother smokes, her unborn child is the first person to feel the effects.
High-definition ultrasound photos from a small study out of Durham University and Lancaster University show fetuses with cigarette-smoking moms "touch their [faces] and [mouths] much more than fetuses of nonsmoking mothers."
According to a press release, researchers think this could be a result of the smoke affecting the development of the central nervous system.
Although all the fetuses involved in the study were born healthy, the four carried by women who smoked 14 cigarettes a day showed the most facial movement, and they moved slightly more than fetuses carried by women suffering from depression.
Lead author Dr. Nadja Reissland noted the 20-participant study seemed to have isolated a new connection between mother and child.
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.
Fellow author Brian Francis echoed her sentiment, adding,
Technology means we can now see what was previously hidden, revealing how smoking affects the development of the fetus in ways we did not realise. This is yet further evidence of the negative effects of smoking in pregnancy.
Now that the team has caught the public's attention, it hopes to conduct a larger-scale trial to form concrete conclusions about smoking while pregnant.