Two New Reasons to Avoid Tobacco During Pregnancy

Tempted to light up a cigarette while with child? There are lots of good reasons not to smoke during pregnancy. Now, new research adds to that growing list – giving women two more good reasons to stay away from tobacco during pregnancy.

Tobacco During Pregnancy and Behavior Problems

A new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics shows that women who smoke during pregnancy may give birth to children who have behavior problems later on in childhood. Specifically, they found that women who lit up while pregnant had a higher risk of an unborn child having conduct problems at age four and a greater chance of engaging in aggressive and rule breaking behavior.

Why the association? Scientists aren’t sure why fetuses exposed to tobacco in utero are more likely to experience behavior problems. It could be a variety of factors from the nicotine in cigarette smoke to the carbon monoxide – both of which can affect the brain.

Smoking During Pregnancy and ADHD

This isn’t the first study to show that exposure to tobacco during pregnancy leads to mental health issues in an unborn child. A Canadian study showed that women who smoked during pregnancy were more likely to have children with ADHD.

A more recent study came to a similar conclusion and showed that some unborn babies may be more susceptible to ADHD when exposed to cigarette smoke in the womb because of biochemical variations in their dopamine pathway – a neurotransmitter that plays a role in memory, problem solving, and attention. Low levels of dopamine are associated with a higher risk for ADHD.

Dads Smoking During Pregnancy is a Problem Too

Another study showed that secondhand smoking from smoking dads can also affect an unborn child. When researchers looked at almost 7,000 children born to moms who didn’t smoke, but dads who did, they found kids exposed to secondhand smoke from dad were more likely to be overweight during childhood – as measured by a higher body mass index. (BMI). Most of these dads smoked daily during the time when the fetus was developing – exposing the unborn baby to significant amounts of secondhand smoke.

Tobacco During Pregnancy: The Bottom Line

This adds to a growing list of reasons not to smoke during pregnancy. Babies exposed to cigarette smoke while in utero are more likely to be born prematurely and to be of low birth weight, which increases the risk for complications. Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals which can affect a growing baby; and nicotine constricts blood vessels which reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that cross the placenta to nourish the fetus. The take home message? Smoking during pregnancy is a bad habit all around.

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