Secondhand Smoke and Your Unborn Baby

Secondhand smoke exposure during pregnancy linked to behavior differences in newborns

(RxWiki News) It's pretty well established that smoking while pregnant leads to various negative health effects for your child. But even being around cigarette smoke can affect your unborn baby.

A recent study has found that newborns whose mothers were exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant scored lower on several assessments at 2 and 3 days old.

"Avoid cigarette smoke while pregnant."

The study, led by Carmen Hernández-Martínez, PhD, of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili's Research Center for Behavioral Assessment in Tarragona, Spain, involved studying the behavior of 282 healthy newborns in their first two to three days after birth.

The researchers used an assessment called the Neonatal Behavior Assessment Scale, which measured

It measured the babies' "habituation cluster," which refers to how well the newborns responded while asleep to a light, a bell, a rattle and a touch on the foot.

It also measured the babies' motor skills, their social-interactive skills — related to the babies' alertness and how well they responded to visuals and sounds — and three additional areas related to how well the babies regulated their bodies.

Within the study group, 62 mothers smoked while pregnant (all fewer than 15 cigarettes a day), and 17 were exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant.

Compared to the newborns of mothers who neither smoked nor were exposed to secondhand smoke, the 79 newborns who were exposed during pregnancy to smoking of some form scored lower on the habituation cluster.

That means they did not respond to stimuli as well developmentally as the babies not exposed to smoking did.

Further, the babies exposed to secondhand smoke scored lower on the motor skills assessment and in a few other areas related to how well they maintained their body state.

The children of smokers also scored lower on most of the assessments related to body state regulation.

These lower scores among the babies exposed to smoking — whether from their mother or their mother's secondhand exposure — remained after the researchers adjusted for the families' socioeconomic status and the babies' birth weight differences.

"We conclude that active and passive smoking during pregnancy affects several aspects of neurobehavioral development, regardless of socio-demographic, obstetric and pediatric factors," the researchers concluded.

This research adds to previous research already showing links between babies exposed to smoking while their mother was pregnant and later behavioral problems, the researchers noted.

"Thus, primary care physicians, obstetricians, pediatricians and health professionals in general should encourage the mothers and their close relatives to cut back their smoking by including them in smoking cessation programs and informing them of the effects of involuntary smoke exposure to prevent direct damage to fetal and infant development," the researchers wrote.

The study was published in the June issue of the journal Early Human Development. Information regarding funding was unavailable. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
September 16, 2012