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How tobacco and alcohol harm pregnancy

Wednesday March 23rd, 2011

Pregnant women exposed to cigarette smoke risk infection, stillbirth and having babies with low birth weight, researchers warn today.

Dr Joan Crane of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, followed 11,852 non-smoking women for eight years.

Those who said they were exposed to passive smoking were more than twice as likely to have a stillbirth - 0.83 per cent, compared with 0.37 per cent of unexposed women.

Smaller head circumference, bacterial sepsis, lower birth rate, and preterm birth were also more likely. Details appear in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Dr Crane says that passive smoking causes inhalation of many harmful chemicals in greater concentration than cigarettes with a filter.

"This information is important for women, their families and health care providers, and reinforces the continued need for increased public policy and education on prevention of exposure to second hand smoke during pregnancy," she said.

A further study suggests that children of women who smoke during pregnancy more likely to become smokers.

The study was done on mice. Those exposed to nicotine before birth showed greater rates of "nicotine self-administration". This supports the theory that smokers' children are more susceptible to nicotine addiction, especially when combined with stress and peer pressure. Results are published in the European Journal of Pharmacology.

It also seems that children whose mothers drank alcohol every day in the first three months of pregnancy are at higher risk of "conduct disorder" by age 16.

Dr Cynthia Larkby and colleagues of the University of Pittsburgh, USA, say the risk of "severe behaviour problems that include aggression, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious rule violations" is three times higher among these children.

Crane, J. et al. Effects of environmental tobacco smoke on perinatal outcomes: a retrospective cohort study. BJOG 2011.

Chistyakov, V. et al. Nicotine exposure throughout early development promotes nicotine self-administration in adolescent mice and induces long-lasting behavioural changes. European Journal of Pharmacology, Vol. 640, August 2010, pp. 87-93.

Larkby, C. A. et al. Prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with conduct disorder in adolescence: Findings from a birth cohort. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 50, March 2011, pp. 262-71.

Tags: Child Health | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Drug and Alcohol Abuse | Mental Health | North America | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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