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Exposure to Tobacco During Pregnancy Affects Behavior in Newborns

(The Nemours Foundation)
According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 12% of women who gave birth during 1999 smoked during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy passes nicotine and other dangerous substances to the fetus and increases the risk of stillbirth, birth defects, low birthweight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and cancer. Maternal smoking has also been shown to affect the developing nervous system of the fetus. Researchers from Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island, examined the effects of maternal smoking on a newborn’s body functions and behavior.

Shortly after delivery in the hospital, the mothers of 56 full-term infants answered questions about their use of cigarettes during pregnancy and provided saliva samples to confirm their smoking or nonsmoking status. The mothers who smoked reported the number of cigarettes they smoked in a typical day of each trimester of pregnancy. Within 48 hours after birth, all of the infants underwent examinations of neurological and behavioral function, including tests for reflexes, central nervous system function, and visual function.

In general, the infants who were exposed to tobacco were more excitable, had greater muscle tension, and showed other symptoms similar to infants going through drug withdrawal. Babies who had been exposed to tobacco needed to be picked up and touched more, and also showed more signs of physical stress in the central nervous system, gastrointestinal system, and visual system. The more cigarettes per day a mother smoked, the greater the effects on the newborn’s body functions and behavior.

What This Mean to You: Smoking during pregnancy harms the health of babies, and the findings of this study support concerns about the effects of maternal smoking on the brain of the developing fetus. The best way to protect your baby’s health – and your own – is to avoid smoking before, during, and after pregnancy. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor or obstetrician about how to quit.

Source: Karen L. Law, BA; Laura R. Stroud, PhD; Linda L. LaCasse, PhD; Raymond Niaura, PhD; Jing Liu, PhD; Barry M. Lester, PhD; Pediatrics, June 2003

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2003

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