The researchers found that the more a woman smoked, the greater the likelihood of finger or toe anomalies. Women who smoked more than a pack a day had a 78 percent increased risk of having a baby with deformed toes or fingers, while women who smoked 11 to 20 cigarettes daily had a 38 percent increased risk. Those who smoked 10 or fewer cigarettes a day upped their babies' risk by 29 percent.
"This is another reason to stop smoking," said Dr. Alfred Robichaux III, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans. "The problems with smoking during pregnancy are increased bleeding, miscarriage, premature deliveries and low birth weight. Babies born to mothers [who are] smokers have higher respiratory illnesses and lower IQs. They also have a higher rate of SIDS. And, now we have evidence that they have up to a 30 percent increase in limb defects.
"Thankfully, surveys are showing that the rate of smoking during pregnancy is on the decline. It looks like the word is getting out," Robichaux added.
Dr. Robert Welch, chairman and program director of obstetrics and gynecology at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich., said he wasn't surprised by this study's findings, since previous research has linked smoking to an increased risk of cleft lip and palette.
He said the best thing a woman can do is quit smoking before she gets pregnant.
"If you're contemplating pregnancy, that's when you want to stop," Welch advised. However, both Welch and Alvarez pointed out that it's never too late for a pregnant woman to stop -- or at the very least cut down -- on her smoking.
"We encourage women with each prenatal vis