Pregnancy: A Good Time to Quit Smoking

Smoking during pregnancy leads to smaller babies with later health risks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One of the best opportunities for women to quit smoking for good is during pregnancy, when ending the bad habit benefits not only them but their unborn child as well.

A study from Spain has again found that newborns of mothers who smoked during their pregnancy were smaller, thinner and lighter than babies of mothers who didn't smoke.

"Don't smoke while pregnant."

Gerardo Rodriguez, of the Department of Pediatrics at the Universidad de Zaragoza in Spain, led the study involving 1,216 babies who were born at 37 weeks or later.

About 22 percent of their mothers smoked an average of nearly eight cigarettes a day. Any mothers who had taken illegal drugs or drank alcohol during their pregnancy were not included in the study.

The researchers compared the body dimensions of the children at birth and found that the babies of smoking moms were an average 216 grams (almost a half pound) lighter than babies born to nonsmokers.

The babies of smokers also had lower amounts of fat as measured in their subcutaneous skin folds, though this difference was not as dramatic as the difference between weights of babies born to smokers and newborns from tobacco-free moms.

Therefore, they arrived in the world thinner (with less lean body mass) and with less fat proportionally on their bodies than the babies whose mothers did not smoke.

The researchers note that the characteristics seen in the smokers' babies - growth restriction and a small birth weight - have been linked to cardiovascular risks when those babies grow up. Growth restriction has also been linked to a higher obesity risk.

Although smokers' children tend to catch up to their peers in weight and nearly in height by preschool, they do not catch up in head size.

One limitation of the study is that the cigarette use was self-reported by the mothers, so they could have incorrectly remembered how much they smoked or estimated a different number than reality.

The best option would be for them to quit entirely while carrying their child, the researchers note.

"Pregnancy should be a good moment to develop smoking cessation interventions because mothers are motivated," the authors conclude.

The study appeared in the March issue of the journal Early Human Development. The research was funded by grants from the Spanish Health Institute Carlos III. No conflicts of interest were noted.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 5, 2012
Last Updated:
August 23, 2012