Smoking during pregnancy found to increase risk of cleft lip and palate

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Women who smoke while pregnant are 50 percent to 70 percent more likely than nonsmokers to give birth to a baby with a cleft lip or palate, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System.

The risk of the disfiguring facial birth defect rises with the number of cigarettes that a mother-to-be smokes each day, even after factors like the mother's race, age and educational level are considered. The finding, based on the largest-ever examination of cleft lip and palate incidence nationwide, suggests that the deformity should be added to the list of potential harmful effects from smoking during pregnancy. It also suggests a possible cause for the mysterious defect.

The results were recently published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

"Not only can smoking cause prematurity and low birth weight, we now believe it can cause this devastating problem as well," says co-author Kevin Chung, M.D., M.S., a U-M plastic and reconstructive surgeon. "More than 13 percent of the 3.9 million women in this study said they smoked, which is troubling by itself, but this new evidence makes it even more so."

Adds co-author Steven Buchman, M.D., director of the Health System's Craniofacial Anomalies Program, "There are all sorts of reasons not to smoke anyway and this just adds another very important one in the prenatal and newborn care of the child. Cleft lip and palate make a huge difference in a child's life, and anything that can be done to reduce the risk is well worth it."

Cleft lip and palate are fairly serious birth defects. They are the fourth most common congenital abnormalities, affecting about one in 700 newborns. As their names suggest, the deformities are marked by obvious gaps in either the lips and nose or the roof of the mouth, due to incomplete fusing. Besides affecting a child's appearance, cleft lip and palate hinder the ability to breathe, eat,

Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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