The findings of a study by scientists at the University of Cambridge said aside other health implications pregnant women who smoke face, their chances of having grandchildren is also at risk.
Experiments on rats during pregnancy found that oxygen deprivation – also known as hypoxia – effectively recreating what smokers do to their lungs, resulted in female mouse pups born with fewer ovarian follicles.
The researchers say that rats are a useful model for studying human pregnancy because their reproductive biology shares many of the same features.
They believe girls born to women who smoked during pregnancy will see a similar reduction in ovarian function, which they say could result in loss of fertility and earlier menopause.
Scientists placed pregnant female rats in reduced levels of oxygen, 13 per cent compared to the standard 21 per cent found in the air, from day six to day 20 of their pregnancy.
Dr Catherine Aiken, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Cambridge, was quoted by Mail Online as saying: “It’s as if low levels of oxygen caused the female’s ovarian tissue to age faster. Biologically, the tissue appears older and the female would run out of eggs – in other words, become infertile – at a younger age.”
She said despite the research being carried out using rats, previous rat studies looking at oxygen deprivation during pregnancy – in relation to other conditions such as heart disease – have been shown to be relevant to humans.