4-D Ultrasound Shows Actual Effects Of Smoking While Pregnant

Advancing medical technology means parents know more about their developing baby than ever before.

June 19, 2017
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We’ve known for some time that if a woman smokes while she’s pregnant it can have negative effects on her developing baby. From a higher risk of premature birth and low birth weight to increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long warned that a mother’s smoking habit can have a serious impact on her unborn child’s life.

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MIKI Yoshihito/Flickr/Creative Commons

The reality of the dangers of smoking while pregnant is clearer than ever before. This is thanks to new 4-D ultrasound technology and research performed by Dr. Nadja Reissland and her colleagues in the Department of Psychology at Durham University.

Similar to other ultrasounds used during pregnancy, 4-D ultrasounds rely on sound waves to craft a picture of what a fetus looks like in the womb. What sets them apart, however, is that fact that 4-D ultrasound technology can actually create a video of the baby that can be watched in real time. This allows parents to see their baby move in the woman and even observe their responses to stimuli in their environment.

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An unborn child’s response to their environment is exactly what researcher Reissland and her team were interested in when they began their observations for a study published by the journal Acta Paediatric.

Using 4-D ultrasound technology and precise observation software, researchers focused on watching exactly how an unborn baby responds when mothers continue their smoking habits during pregnancy.

The results of their research were nothing short of astonishing.

Four ultrasound scans were performed over the course of 12 weeks, starting at 24 weeks’ gestation. Study participants included 20 expectant mothers. Four of these mothers were regular smokers.

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Although further research is needed to determine the exact implications of this study, results indicated that the babies of the smoking moms had significantly higher mouth movements and were touching their faces at much higher rates.

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Researchers believed that these movements were negative responses to the mother smoking during pregnancy, and this information provides further evidence that continuing a smoking habit is harmful to developing fetuses.

Outside of providing us with important information about how babies develop in the womb and how expectant mothers can make lifestyle decisions that are in the best interest of their unborn baby, 4-D ultrasounds also confirm one more important truth: Pregnancy and fetal development are truly amazing. In fact, thanks to advancing medical technology, here are seven things we now know babies do in utero.

1. Your baby is learning to recognize your voice.

While your baby is growing inside your womb, they are learning important skills for survival on the outside. One study published in the journal Infant Behavior & Development found clear evidence that during the third trimester, babies are learning to prefer their mother’s voice over that of female strangers.

2. Your baby is getting the hiccups.

Have you ever noticed that your baby’s kicks feel suspiciously rhythmic and predictable? Chances are high that you’re not experiencing kicks, but what you’re actually feeling is that your baby has a case of the hiccups.

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Most babies start to hiccup in the womb early on, but you may not notice these jerky movements until closer to six months, according to Healthline.

3. Your baby can taste what you eat.

We may not be certain about what causes intense cravings during pregnancy, but we do know for sure that when Mom is chowing down on tacos, Baby is getting a taste, too. Research shows that the nutrients from the food that pregnant women eat find their way into their amniotic fluid.

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Amazingly, as early as 20 weeks’ gestation, babies begin to take big drinks of amniotic fluid and develop a taste for certain foods. What you eat during pregnancy may even influence what they prefer or dislike once they begin to eat solid food outside of the womb, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

4. Your baby is smiling.

There is something life changing about the first time your baby flashes a grin. Thanks to 4-D ultrasounds, we know that babies start practicing their smile long before they’re born.

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According to research published in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, as fetuses’ brains develop they start learning to use their face. In addition to smiling, your baby is also practicing yawning, sticking their tongue out, and blinking while they wait to be born—when they can start making cute faces for their parents.

5. Your baby is learning to anticipate touch.

Newborns have an impressive ability to anticipate touch instead of merely reacting to it once they’ve experienced it. As it turns out, this is a skill that is learned in the womb.

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Research in the journal of Developmental Psychobiology found that fetuses begin to open their mouth as an anticipatory response to touch right around nine months’ gestation. Additionally, repeated ultrasounds throughout the remainder of the pregnancy showed that babies become more skilled at anticipating touch the closer they are to being born.

6. Your baby is reacting to light.

Right around week 28 of your pregnancy, your baby’s eyes will open. They may not have a lot to look at in their first home, but they learn to react to light quickly.

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By the 33rd week of your pregnancy, your baby’s pupils are dilating and constricting, fully able to detect when light enters the eye.

7. Your baby is learning language.

The developing brain is nothing short of amazing. In the third trimester, babies not only learn to prefer their mother’s voice, they also show preference for their native language.

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Researchers studied fetal sensitivity to maternal speech and language by monitoring changes in the babies’ heart rate. The study determined that fetuses in the third trimester of pregnancy responded uniquely to their mother’s native language versus a foreign language being spoken.

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