According to LiveScience on Monday, pregnant women who quit smoking may spare their children emotional problems, a new study from the Netherlands suggests.
Hanan El Marroun at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and her colleagues had previously seen impaired brain growth in babies born to women who smoked throughout their pregnancy, although no differences were seen if women stopped smoking soon after learning that they were pregnant.
Smoking during pregnancy is known to contribute to significant problems in utero and following birth, including low birth weight and attention difficulties. This is the first study to suggest an association between prenatal tobacco exposure and BD, a serious psychiatric illness marked by significant shifts in mood that alternate between periods of depression and mania. Symptoms typically become noticeable in the late teens or early adulthood.
El Marroun's team used MRI to look at the brains of 113 children aged between 6 and 8 years old whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, and another 113 children whose moms did not. The children's behavioral and emotional functioning was also tested.
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Those whose mothers smoked throughout pregnancy had smaller total brain volumes and reduced amounts of grey and white matter in the superior frontal cortex, an area involved in regulating moods. What's more, these structural differences correlated with symptoms of depression and anxiety in the children.
Not every child whose mother smoked showed these symptoms, and the study could not definitively prove cause and effect. However, because we already know that smoking is bad for babies, pregnant women should continue to be advised not to smoke, El Marroun says.
"Importantly, brain development in offspring of mothers who quit smoking during pregnancy resembled that of [children who were not exposed to tobacco]," the researchers wrote in their study, published today (Oct. 7) in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Previous studies have shown that smoking during pregnancy has negative effects on a baby's health — it may restrict the growth of the fetus, and may increase the risk of stillbirth and preterm birth.
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