Impact of maternal cigarette smoking on fetal growth and body composition

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2000 Oct;183(4):883-6. doi: 10.1067/mob.2000.109103.


Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the impact of maternal cigarette smoking on the fetal accretion of fat and lean body mass. We hypothesized that maternal smoking would result in a reduction in the deposition of lean body mass.

Study design: Longitudinal ultrasonographic examinations on 65 singleton fetuses without anomalies of smoking mothers were compared with 36 singleton fetuses without anomalies of nonsmoking mothers. A total of 214 ultrasonographic examinations were performed between 27 and 37 weeks' gestation. All subjects underwent at least 2 ultrasonographic examinations separated by 4 weeks. We compared the slopes of the growth curves for individual morphometric parameters including head circumference, femur length, abdominal circumference, thigh muscle area, thigh fat area, estimated fetal weight and percentage of thigh fat between groups. Analysis was performed with a repeated measures analysis of covariance. Potential covariates included prepregnancy body mass index (in kilograms per square meter), weight gain during pregnancy, maternal age, parity, and fetal sex recorded at birth. Demographic variables are expressed as mean +/- SD; fetal measurements are expressed as mean +/- SE. Both t tests and chi(2) analyses were used to compare groups with respect to demographic variables. P <.05 was accepted for significance.

Results: There were no significant differences between groups in maternal prepregnancy weight, maternal height, maternal prepregnancy body mass index, weight gain in pregnancy, parity, or fetal sex. Smokers were younger than nonsmokers (smokers, 23.7 +/- 6.0 years; nonsmokers, 31.8 +/- 6. 0 years; P <.0001), and neonatal weight was reduced among smokers (smokers, 3269 +/- 507 g; nonsmokers, 3519 +/- 411 g; P <.01). There were no differences in the growth rates of head circumference (P =. 79) and femur length (P =.67). Growth rates of abdominal circumference (smokers, 9.0 +/- 0.3 mm/wk; nonsmokers, 10.3 +/- 0.5 mm/wk; P =.01), estimated fetal weight (smokers, 171 +/- 5.4 g/wk; nonsmokers, 193 +/- 8.0 g/wk; P =.008), and muscle area (smokers, 64. 1 +/- 3.8 mm(2)/wk; nonsmokers, 76.4 +/- 5.6 mm(2)/wk; P =.03) were significantly reduced among smokers. There was a reduction in the rate of fat deposition in the thighs of fetuses of smoking mothers (smokers, 38.7 +/- 3.7 mm(2)/wk; nonsmokers, 54.6 +/- 5.4 mm(2)/wk; P =.004); however there was no absolute difference in the amount of fat measured in the thigh between 33 and 37 weeks' gestation.

Conclusion: We detected reduced fetal growth that selectively affected abdominal circumference and peripheral muscle mass while not affecting head circumference and femur length in fetuses of smoking mothers. The effect of cigarette smoking on fetal fat deposition was less clear. Cigarette smoking appears to have a selective effect within lean body mass compartments, with affected compartments including peripheral fetal muscle. The findings of a reduction in abdominal circumference growth compared with control subjects in combination with no difference in subcutaneous fat content beyond 33 weeks' gestation are potentially explained by a reduction in fetal liver size that may result from maternal smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / embryology
  • Adult
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Weight
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development
  • Female
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / embryology
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal