Smoking ban ‘cuts premature births’.


The theory that public smoking bans cut the number of children born prematurely has been strengthened by new research.

Baby exposed to cigarette smoke

The study of 600,000 births found three successive drops in babies born before 37 weeks – each occurring after a phase of a public smoking ban was introduced.

There was no such trend in the period before the bans were put in place, the British Medical Journal reported.

The study, by Hasselt University in Belgium, comes after Scottish research in 2012 found a similar pattern.

But experts could not fully state the smoking ban was the cause of the change because pre-term births had started to drop before the ban.

It is already well established that smoking leads to reduced birth weight and an increased risk of premature birth.

Successive drops

In the latest study researchers were able to look at the rate of premature births after each phase of a smoking ban came into force in Belgium.

Public places and most workplaces were first to introduce smoke-free rules in 2006, followed by restaurants in 2007 and bars serving food in 2010.

The rate of premature births was found to fall after each phase of the ban with the biggest impact seen after the second two bans with restaurants and bars introducing no smoking rules.

After the bans in 2007 and 2010, the premature birth rate dropped by around 3% each time.

Overall it corresponds to a fall of six premature babies in every 1,000 births.

The changes could not be explained by other factors – such as mother’s age and socioeconomic status or population effects such as changes in air pollution and influenza epidemics.

There was no link found with birth weight.

Study leader Dr Tim Nawrot from Hasselt University said that even a mild reduction in gestational age has been linked in other studies to adverse health outcomes in early and later life.

“Because the ban happened at three different moments, we could show there was a consistent pattern of reduction in the risk of preterm delivery.”

He added: “It supports the notion that smoking bans have public health benefits even from early life.”

Patrick O’Brien, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “It is very gratifying to see further strong evidence that smoking bans have had a beneficial impact on pregnant women and their babies.”

Scans show premature-baby brain arrested development.


Premature birth may interrupt vital brain development processes, medical scans reveal.

Researchers at King’s College London scanned 55 premature infants and 10 babies born at full term, using a novel type of MRI scan.

Premature baby in hospital

The brain scans showed arrested development in the premature babies at a key stage of maturation.

Experts say the work, in PNAS, could further understanding, but that parents should not be alarmed by the findings.

In recent decades there have been big advances in caring for premature babies, which mean most can go on to live a healthy life.

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Most premature babies are unaffected by their early arrival and families of these babies should not be unduly concerned”

Andy Cole Bliss

The researchers say the new type of imaging – which tracks the movement of water in the brain – will enable them to explore how the disruption of key processes might cause conditions such as autism.

It could also be used to monitor possible treatments to prevent brain damage.

Interrupted development

The scans showed cortical development was reduced in the preterm babies compared with those born at full term, with the greatest effect in the most premature infants – those born at about 27 weeks.

The brain regions affected govern social and emotional processing, as well as memory.

The same children were assessed at two years of age and those who had been born prematurely performed less well on neurodevelopmental tests, which the researchers say suggests the weeks a baby loses in the womb may matter.

Lead investigator Prof David Edwards said: “The number of babies born prematurely is increasing, so it has never been more important to improve our understanding of how preterm birth affects brain development and causes brain damage.

“We know that prematurity is extremely stressful for an infant, but by using a new technique we are able to track brain maturation in babies to pinpoint the exact processes that might be affected by premature birth.”

Andy Cole, chief executive of the premature baby charity Bliss, said: “It is very exciting that this ground-breaking research is being driven forward here in the UK.

“A better understanding of the way that preterm babies’ brains develop is an important step for doctors to help identify improvements in care that will benefit the 60,000 preterm children born every year.

“It is important to mention that most premature babies are unaffected by their early arrival and families of these babies should not be unduly concerned.”

‘Kangaroo care’ key for prem babies.


Mothers carrying babies skin-to-skin could significantly cut global death and disability rates from premature birth, a leading expert has said.

Prof Joy Lawn says “kangaroo care“, not expensive intensive care, is the key.

Premature baby in an incubator

The 15 million babies every year born at or before 37 weeks gestation account for about 10% of the global burden of disease, and one million of them die.

Of those who survive, just under 3% have moderate or severe impairments and 4.4% have mild impairments.

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Unless there are those breathing problems, kangaroo care is actually better ”

Prof Joy Lawn London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Prof Lawn, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said: “The perception is you need intensive care for pre-term babies,

“But 85% of babies born premature are six weeks early or less. They need help feeding, with temperature control and they are more prone to infection.

“It’s really only before 32 weeks that their lungs are immature and they need help breathing,

She added: “Unless there are those breathing problems, kangaroo care is actually better because it promotes breastfeeding and reduces infection.”

Speaking ahead of World Prematurity Day on Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who leads the Every Woman Every Child movement, which promotes improvements to healthcare for women and children, said: “Three-quarters of the one million babies who die each year from complications associated with prematurity could have been saved with cost-effective interventions, even without intensive care facilities.”

Duncan Wilbur, from the UK charity Bliss, said, “While kangaroo care saves lives in countries such as Africa, it is also incredibly important for babies born too soon all over the world.

“Here in the UK our medical technology is extremely advanced but simply giving a baby kangaroo care or skin-to-skin can help make a baby’s breathing and heart rate more regular, it can help a baby’s discomfort during certain medical procedures and importantly can benefit breastfeeding and bonding between the baby and parents.”

Pregnancy risks

Studies to be published this weekend in the Pediatric Research journal show boys are 14% more likely to be born prematurely – and boys who are premature are more likely to die or experience disability than girls.

Common disabilities include learning disorders and cerebral palsy.

Prof Lawn said: “One partial explanation for more preterm births among boys is that women pregnant with a boy are more likely to have placental problems, pre-eclampsia, and high blood pressure, all associated with preterm births.”

She added: “Baby boys have a higher likelihood of infections, jaundice, birth complications, and congenital conditions, but the biggest risk for baby boys is due to preterm birth.

“For two babies born at the same degree of prematurity, a boy will have a higher risk of death and disability compared to a girl.

“Even in the womb, girls mature more rapidly than boys, which provides an advantage, because the lungs and other organs are more developed.