Mothers who smoke during pregnancy could be harming their daughters’ fertility in years to come, research suggests.

Women have been warned about the risks of smoking while pregnant for years, with their offspring at risk of heart defects and other health problems.

But more than one in ten women – 65,000 every year in England alone – still smoke all the way through pregnancy.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have now discovered the damage is even more far reaching than thought – and could even put a woman’s chance of having grandchildren at risk.

Their findings, published last night in the FASEB science journal, are the first to suggest that girls born to women who smoked during pregnancy may struggle to have children of her own.

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.

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