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Smoking While Pregnant Linked To Behaviour Problems


A New British-Brazilian study has suggested a link between smoking during pregnancy and psychological problems in young children.

By James Tweedie

Researchers from the United Kingdom and Brazil analysed data on 6,735 British and 509 Brazilian families.

They concluded that there is reason to believe that mothers who smoke may expose their unborn children to harmful chemicals which may affect their behaviour in early childhood.

University of Bristol researcher Dr Mary-Jo Brion said that babies exposed to smoke-borne substances during pregnancy may be prone to rule breaking, such as lying, cheating, bullying, and disobedience.

"To some extent it is somewhat surprising that maternal smoking may also directly impact child behaviours from exposing the foetus to tobacco in utero," she said.

"This study suggests that adverse effects on offspring may extend as far as putting children at increased risk of having behavioural problems."

Dr Brion pointed out that investigators had access to "complete information" on the families studied.

However, the study found no link between maternal smoking and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The study also concluded that pre-natal smoking by pregnant women may have specific effects on foetal development, and that maternal smoking appeared to be more closely associated with childhood disorders than paternal smoking.

A related study in Hong Kong found that babies exposed to passive smoking may be at increased risk of developing weight problems, even if their mothers are non-smokers.

Co-author Dr Mary Schooling of the University of Hong Kong said that scientists investigated 6,790 children with non-smoking mothers, of whom 2,165 - or 32 per cent - had fathers who smoked.

Of the children, 2,674 were exposed to passive smoking from other sources in infancy or before birth, while 1,951 children had no exposure to smoking at all.

More than half of the fathers who smoked did so daily and 626 only occasionally.

The key finding of the study was that paternal smoking appeared to be linked to higher weight in children, as measured by their Body Mass Index (BMI) - calculated by comparing height and weight.

It said: "The effect of paternal smoking on children's BMI was similar to that of maternal smoking during pregnancy."

But the study did not find that having a father who smoked affected the height of pregnschool-age children.

Dr Schooling said: "To protect their children, fathers should avoid smoking from conception onward."

The researchers also examined other factors, such as whether children were breastfed.

Both papers were published in the July issue of the US medical journal Pediatrics.

A comment piece in the same edition called for better promotion of stop-smoking programmes for parents and parents-to-be.

Dr Jonathan Winickoff of the Harvard Medical School wrote that the two studies "support the need for action to promote tobacco-control activities that would mitigate tobacco exposure throughout childhood development, starting in the prenatal period."

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