Philadelphia, PA, January 9, 2014 Tobacco smoking by pregnant women has long been viewed as a public health risk because of smoking's adverse effects on the development of a fetus.
Smoking during pregnancy is linked to numerous negative outcomes, including low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, and increased risk for attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder, and nicotine use in offspring. Despite this extensive literature, it is estimated that 13%-30% of women in the United States continue to smoke while pregnant.
Now, a new 40-year longitudinal study, published in Biological Psychiatry, provides strong evidence that prenatal exposure to maternal stress hormones predicts nicotine dependence later in life but only for daughters. It also confirms previous research that babies born to moms who smoked when pregnant have an increased risk of nicotine addiction in adulthood.
"While maternal smoking during pregnancy has been shown to be an independent risk factor for nicotine dependence, we didn't really know which pathways or mechanisms were responsible. Most prior research involving biological mechanisms had been conducted in animals not humans," said Dr. Laura Stroud, first author on this study and a researcher with the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, RI.
"Our study suggests that maternal smoking and high stress hormones represent a 'double-hit' in terms of increasing an offspring's risk for nicotine addiction as an adult. Because mothers who smoke are often more stressed and living in adverse conditions these findings represent a major public health concern."
To conduct the study, Stroud and her colleagues used data from a large, national, long-term project that began in 1959 and enrolled over 50,000 pregnant women. The offspring of those women were ultimately followed by researchers for 40 years.
For this particular project, 1,086 m
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