Smoking in pregnancy could increase baby’s sudden death risk ‘by affecting breathing regulator in brain’
Babies whose mothers smoke during pregnancy have a far higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), now researchers think they know why.
Researchers, reporting in the journal Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology, found nicotine could be affecting the development of brain centres that regulate breathing.
SIDS is the leading cause of death during the first year of a baby’s life and the link between maternal smoking and SIDS is well-established.
Prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke puts infants at a two to five fold increased risk of SIDS, and contributes to premature birth, which is another risk factor.
However, what was known was how exposure to the chemicals in cigarette smoke in the womb increased this risk.
Researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio analysed evidence from a number of human and animal studies.
They found nicotine exposure in the womb led to altered breathing patterns and ventilatory responses that compromised respiratory arousal and auto-resuscitation.
Babies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy had more pauses in breathing (infant apnea) and had a decreased ability to wake up from sleep in response to low oxygen.
Journal editor, Dr Harold Farber, said: ‘These findings highlight the importance of public health policies to prevent the development of tobacco dependence in adolescent girls and the importance of treatment of maternal tobacco dependence prior to pregnancy.
‘Perhaps when young women are freed from the chains of tobacco addiction we can then truly say that “you have come a long way… for your baby.”’