As Stoptober begins, a groundbreaking new study has found that mothers who smoke during pregnancy and while breastfeeding could be harming the fertility of their children – particularly boys.
Tests carried out on mice by researchers in Australia have shown for the first time that smoking damages developing reproductive organs.
The male offspring of mice exposed to smoking showed a permanent, and lower sperm count. The cigarette toxins made their sperm cells misshapen and unable to swim properly – hindering their ability to fertilise an egg.
Lead author of the study, professor Eileen McLaughlin, said:
“This is the first time we have been able to prove conclusively that male baby exposure to cigarette toxins in pregnancy and early life will damage later life fertility.
“We now know that exposure to cigarette toxins directly affects the stem cell population in the testes, causing a permanent reduction in the population of sperm produced.”
These findings are thought to pinpoint why there are a number of cases of sub-fertility in men in their 30s and 40s.
In the womb, these men were more likely to have been exposed to cigarette toxins as less was known back then about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy.
Today around 25% of young women smoke while pregnant, and continue to do so while breastfeeding, but it is hoped this new research will make an impact.
Sheena Lewis, Professor of Reproductive Medicine at Queens University Belfast, and co-author of the British Fertility Society Guidelines on Male Reproduction said:
“Mothers who smoke when pregnant are potentially doing irreversible damage to their sons’ fertility.
“If these mothers care about their sons’ future happiness and want grandchildren, they should stop smoking during pregnancy.”