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Smoking in Pregnancy May Cause Behavioral Troubles in Offspring

Those problems may intensify as child grows older, researchers add

THURSDAY, July 13, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Children whose mothers smoke during pregnancy tend to have more behavioral problems than those born to nonsmokers, a new study finds, and these behavioral problems begin to appear as early as 18 to 24 months of age.

A team of American and British researchers say it's the first study to link smoking during pregnancy and child behavior problems -- such as aggression and refusal to follow directions -- in the first years of life. The findings were published in the July/August issue of Child Development.

The researchers suspect that cigarette smoking by pregnant women affects fetal brain systems that regulate behavior.

The study included 93 toddlers between 1 and 2 years of age. Of those, 47 percent were born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy. These children exhibited higher levels of behavior problems.

In addition, the study found that while behavior problems remained relatively stable over time for children who weren't exposed to cigarette smoke while in the womb, behavior problems exhibited by smoke-exposed children substantially increased from 18 to 24 months of age.

While the study results are striking, they do not prove that prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke actually causes behavioral problems, noted researcher Lauren Wakschlag of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"However, our findings do move us one step closer to answering this question by generating new ideas regarding what areas of the brain might be affected by exposure," she said in a prepared statement.

"By characterizing how disruptive behavior unfolds in exposed children in the first years of life, we also highlight a window of opportunity for interventions to alter the course of these problems and prevent the development of serious and chronic disruptive behavior disorders in children at risk," Wakschlag said

More information

The American Medical Association has more about smoking and pregnancy.

SOURCE: Society for Research in Child Development, news release, July 13, 2006
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