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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Women who used cocaine while pregnant -- even just once -- had a one in three chance of having smaller, more premature babies, according to a study.
While health care workers have long known of such a link, the latest study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, pooled the data from 31 previous studies for a more comprehensive look at the situation.
"This actually gives us concrete numbers to remind us once again of the association of cocaine use and (the) negative impact that it has not only on pregnancy but also on newborn babies," said Kellie Murphy, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto and co-author of the study, told Reuters Health.
Babies born to mothers who used cocaine -- which the study defined as any use during pregnancy at all -- had a one in three chance of being born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Without cocaine use, this risk was one in eight.
Cocaine-using mothers also had a one in three chance of having a baby who weighed less than 2,500 grams, while women who did not had about a one in 10 chance.
They're "small in weight, size and head circumference, the brain's small, everything is smaller," Murphy said.
Other health care professionals pointed out that babies born to cocaine-using mothers can also have a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and early death, meaning that the ongoing social costs require long-term health care policy to address the issue.
There is research that says that programs to get women to quit cocaine are helpful, so it's important for doctors to try to identify patients who have these problems, Murphy said.
"Pregnancy is often a time where women can change their lives. It's potentially an opportunity for women to get on the right track," she added.
Reporting by Leigh Krietsch Boerner at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies