Another Risk for Babies of Smoking Moms

Smoking during pregnancy increased risk for infectious disease in babies after birth

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Women have been told it's important not to smoke while they're pregnant. Some women may not realize how much smoking in pregnancy might affect their children later on.

A recent study found that children may be more likely to catch an infectious disease requiring hospitalization in their first year if their mothers smoked during pregnancy.

In fact, children born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy were at higher risk for dying from an infectious disease than children born to non-smokers.

The most common types of infectious diseases among children born to smokers were respiratory illnesses, but the babies were affected by other diseases as well.

"Don't smoke, especially while pregnant."

This study, led by Michael J. Metzger, PhD, of the University of Washington in Seattle, looked at whether mothers' smoking during pregnancy increased children's risk for infectious diseases later.

The researchers compared two sets of children, each including a group of babies born to smokers and a group of babies born to non-smokers. The children were all born in Washington between 1987 and 2004.

First, the researchers compared 47,404 babies who had been hospitalized with an infectious disease within their first year of life to 48,233 babies who were not hospitalized with an infectious disease before age 1.

In their second analysis, the researchers compared 627 babies who died from an infectious disease in their first year to 2,730 babies who survived their first year.

In both groups, the researchers found that babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy had 1.5 times greater odds of being hospitalized for or of dying from an infectious disease than children not born to smoking moms.

In particular, babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy had 1.7 times greater odds of being hospitalized for a respiratory infectious disease than babies born to non-smokers.

When the researchers took into account differences in the babies' birthweight and the pregnancy week when they were born, it did not affect the results of hospitalization risk.

Interestingly, however, when the researchers looked only at children with low birthweight, children born to smokers were no more or less likely to die from an infectious disease than children born to non-smokers.

Overall, however, the researchers concluded that smoking during pregnancy was linked to a higher risk of a wide range of infectious diseases among the babies after they were born.

"These findings suggest that full-term infants of normal weight whose mothers smoked may suffer an increased risk of serious infectious disease morbidity and mortality," the researchers concluded.

“We’ve known for a long time that babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy are at high risk for serious medical problems relating to low birth weight, premature delivery and poor lung development,” said study co-author Abigail Halperin, MD, MPH, in a prepared statement.

“While respiratory infections have been recognized as a common cause of these sometimes life-threatening illnesses, this study shows that babies exposed to smoke in utero also have increased risk for hospitalization and death from a much broader range of infections—both respiratory and non-respiratory—than we knew before," she said.

Andre Hall, MD, an OBGYN at Birth and Women's Care, PA in Fayetteville, NC, said it's not news that smoking is an unhealthy habit.

"It is also generally understood that it is especially unhealthy for pregnant women and their unborn children," he said.

"In addition to problems such as intrauterine growth restriction, this study now suggests a link between a mother's smoking and the future development of infectious diseases in an unborn child," Dr. Hall said. "This attack on a developing child's immune system which may increase a child's diseases over their lifetime, should be avoided at all costs."

This study will be presented October 27 at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando.

This study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and its findings should be interpreted with caution.

Information was unavailable regarding funding and possible conflicts of interest among the authors.

Review Date: 
October 25, 2013
Last Updated:
October 31, 2013