Pregnancy Smoking Affects Neurodevelopment in Babies

First Posted: Sep 17, 2012 08:03 AM EDT

Smoking during pregnancy is one of the main threats that cause illness and death for both mothers an infant. According to an epidemiological study,  11 to 30 percent of pregnant women smoke or are passively exposed to tobacco smoke. And, the newborns exposed to nicotine from both active and passive smoking mothers show poor physiological, sensory, motor and attention responses.

Prior to this there were several studies that linked smoking to health problems in infants that range from learning difficulties, attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity and even obesity. But still the effects of smoking on neonatal behaviour have not yet been studied in depth.

This study was led by Behaviour Evaluation and Measurement Research Centre (CRAMC) of the Rovira i Virgili University. Published in the journal Early Human Development it evaluated the behaviour of 282 healthy newborns using the Neonatal Behavioural Evaluation Scale in order to analyze the effects of passive smoking during pregnancy on the newborn. The researchers considered interaction with the newborn in order to evaluate its behaviour and responses between 48 and 72 hours after birth.

They noticed that 22 percent of the mothers smoked during pregnancy and about 6 percent were exposed only to second-hand smoke. Out of the smoking mothers, 12.4 percent had between 1 and 5 cigarettes a day; 6.7 percent had between 6 and 10 a day; and 2.8 percent had between 10 and 15 a day. None of them smoked more than 15 cigarettes a day.

"Newborns who have had intrauterine exposure to nicotine, whether in an active or passive way, show signs of being more affected in terms of their neurobehavioural development. This could be an indicator of pathologies, independently of sociodemographic, obstetric and pediatric factors," as explained by Josefa Canals and Carmen Hernández, the lead authors of the study.

The researchers highlight that kids born to smoking and passive smoking mothers score low in their ability to inhibit stimuli that could alter the central nervous system.

"Health professionals should encourage future mothers and their families to eliminate or reduce tobacco consumption," states Canals who outlines the importance of informing mothers on the effects of involuntary exposure to cigarette smoke in order to prevent direct damage to the fetus and infant development.

"However, although women tend to reduce their normal tobacco consumption when falling pregnant, the key is to study the effects of exposure to small amounts of smoke on fetal development," conclude Canals and Hernandez.

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