July 20, 2006

Smoking in pregnancy tied to kids’ behavior issues

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - There seems to be a link
between maternal smoking during pregnancy and behavioral
problems in preschool-age children.

A study published in the journal Child Development found
that two-year-olds whose mothers smoked regularly while they
were pregnant were significantly more likely to exhibit an
abnormal pattern of behavior over time compared to age-matched
toddlers who were not exposed to cigarette smoke before birth.

While many toddlers exhibit mild behavioral problems during
the "terrible twos," the behavior problems of cigarette-exposed
toddlers significantly increased between 18 and 24 months of
age compared to the milder, more stable patterns of non-exposed

"These findings suggest that for some children the roots of
problem behavior may occur before they are born," said Lauren
Wakschlag, of the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead
author of the study.

Wakschlag and colleagues studied 93 children between 12 and
24 months of age. Forty-four children were exposed to cigarette
smoke before birth. Nearly half of mothers who smoked during
pregnancy smoked more than half-a-pack a day.

The Chicago team observed markedly different behavior
patterns among cigarette-exposed and non-exposed toddlers.
Exposed toddlers exhibited "escalating externalizing problems"
from 18 to 24 months of age and had difficulty modulating their
behavior in response to social cues.

"This is in contrast to the non-exposed toddlers in whom
externalizing behaviors exhibited a plateau or decline that is
typical of this developmental period," Wakschlag's team notes.

Compared with non-exposed kids, those born to smoking
mothers exhibited "qualitatively different behaviors,"
according to the authors. They displayed increased levels of
stubborn defiance, aggression, and had poorer social skills.

The current findings "expand upon consistent evidence" that
maternal smoking during pregnancy is associated with increased
likelihood of kids having behavioral problems. It does not,
however, prove that smoking during pregnancy causes these

SOURCE: Child Development, July/August 2006.