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Research reveals new dangers of smoking to unborn children
Posted in Parenting, Research, Substance Abuse - 0 Comments

dangers of smoking to unborn children

Smoking cigarettes is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. In the United States, smoking is responsible for nearly one-fifth of all deaths and 480,000 premature deaths per year. It increases the risk for premature death due to a number of health problems, including cardiovascular and respiratory disease, cancer and stroke. Thousand of chemicals and about 70 carcinogens contained in tobacco smoke have negative consequences on virtually every organ in the body.

These are some of the many reasons that pregnant mothers, in particular, shouldn’t smoke.

Consequences of smoking during pregnancy

Aside from the physical health problems that result from smoking, women who smoke during their childbearing years can affect their ability to get pregnant and increase their risk for having problems during pregnancy and birth complications, such as an ectopic pregnancy. Women who smoke while pregnant can also negatively impact their baby’s health, even before the baby is born. Compared to women who do not smoke, women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have a miscarriage, stillbirth or deliver their baby early. The habit can also result in the low birth weight of newborns. Furthermore, women who smoke can profoundly increase their baby’s risk for experiencing a number of health problems throughout their lives along with increasing their newborn’s risk for tissue damage, birth defects and death from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Smoking during pregnancy can increase the risk for schizophrenia

In addition to the health problems resulting from smoking, evidence suggests that prenatal exposure to nicotine can contribute to the development of schizophrenia. A 2013 study conducted by Solja Niemelӓ, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and addiction medicine at the University of Oulu, Lapland Hospital District in Finland, and her colleagues suggested that mothers who smoked during pregnancy can increase their newborn’s risk for developing schizophrenia later in life.

The researchers used data from pregnant women and their offspring who were included in the Finnish Prenatal Study of Schizophrenia. The participants included 212 patients with schizophrenia between the ages of 14 and 30 years, who were matched with 212 normal controls. Higher prenatal tobacco smoke exposure significantly increased the severity of negative symptoms and increased the risk for developing schizophrenia. The exposure to heavy nicotine use increased the odds of schizophrenia by 38 percent.

More recently, Francesco Bernardini, M.D., from the University of Perugia, and his colleagues examined the relationship between prenatal exposure to maternal smoking and symptom severity among patients with first-episode psychosis. They recruited 93 participants during their initial hospitalization for first-episode psychosis. About 20 percent of mothers smoked during pregnancy. The participants who were prenatally exposed to maternal smoking had greater severity of hallucinations. This study suggested that those exposed prenatally to maternal smoking may have greater hallucination severity during their initial hospitalization for first-episode psychosis.

What does this mean?

The consequences of smoking during pregnancy are serious and can potentially affect children for the rest of their lives. These studies highlight the importance of avoiding smoking during pregnancy as it can have severe consequences on a child’s health and wellbeing.

For those women struggling with addiction, whether it be to nicotine or other substances, help is available. At Sovereign Health of Arizona, women with substance use disorders can receive comprehensive and individualized behavioral health treatment services in a safe and supportive environment. For more information on the treatment programs available at Sovereign Health of Arizona, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Amanda Habermann is a writer for Sovereign Health. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. She brings to the team her background in research, psychological testing and assessment, and recovery techniques. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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