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Study Links Smoking in Pregnancy with Children’s Behavior Problems

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An analysis of studies suggests children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are more likely to have conduct problems later in life, such as getting into fights or having attention difficulties, compared with children of nonsmoking mothers.

Researchers at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom looked at data from three studies that asked women whether they smoked during pregnancy. Parents and teachers reported on the conduct problems of these women’s children between ages 4 and 10. In an effort to look at the role of genetics, the researchers compared children raised by their biological mothers and those raised by adoptive mothers, Reuters reports.

They rated children’s behavior on a scale. A score of 100 was considered average, and higher scores indicated more behavior problems. In studies that included women who raised their own biological children, those who did not smoke during pregnancy had children with an average score of 99. In contrast, children raised by their biological mother who smoked 10 or more cigarettes a day scored 104. Similar differences were found among children raised by adoptive mothers.

“The evidence is emerging that smoking in pregnancy and the frequency of smoking in pregnancy is correlated with developmental outcomes after (children) are born,” study senior author Gordon Harold told Reuters. He noted that babies of mothers who smoke during pregnancy may be born smaller, or they may have impaired brain development.

The study appears in JAMA Psychiatry.

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