Researchers at Durham and Lancaster universities said the findings of their pilot study added weight to existing evidence that smoking is harmful to foetuses and warranted further investigation.

Observing 4-D ultrasound scans, the researchers found that foetuses whose mothers were smokers showed a significantly higher rate of mouth movements than the normal declining rate of movements expected in a foetus during pregnancy.

The researchers suggested that the reason for this might be that the foetal central nervous system, which controls movements in general and facial movements in particular did
not develop at the same rate and in the same manner as in foetuses of mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy.

Previous studies have reported a delay in relation to speech processing abilities in infants exposed to smoking during pregnancy, the researchers added.The researchers observed 80 4-D ultrasound scans of 20 foetuses, to assess subtle mouth and touch movements. Scans were taken at four different intervals between 24 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.

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