Pregnancy is one of the most critical phases that determines the overall well-being of the child. Any indulgence in high-risk practices like smoking and drinking can inflict irreversible damages on the unborn child. Such habits also sow the seeds of some of the genetic diseases or birth defects. In many cases, women have also witnessed the traumatic death of their babies due to the development of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
While the users are already well-aware of the effects of smoking and drinking on their physical health, there is a general tendency among the common masses to ignore the repercussions on the unborn child. It is no secret that smoking causes life-threatening maladies like cancer, heart diseases and other major health problems. In addition, when a woman smokes during her pregnancy, a twofold increase in the side effects is witnessed that not only affects the mother but also the developing fetus.
According to the Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System (PRAMS) data from 24 states released in 2011, about 10 percent of women reported smoking during the last three months of pregnancy. The data highlights the level of risk posed by smoking during pregnancy to the unborn child. Like smoking, other habits like drinking and drug abuse are fraught with risks to the fetus that increase the chances of developing mental and physical disorders in later years.
Complications due to smoking
Any kind of indulgence in smoking, both during and before pregnancy, can give rise to several complications. Some of them are mentioned below:
- Women who smoke are less likely to conceive and are more likely to suffer a miscarriage.
- It can cause premature birth (being born earlier than date postulated by the doctor), which, in turn, could lead to low birth weight among infants. Those children born with low birth weight invariably suffer from poor health that increases the chances of hospitalization and even death in rare cases.
- Some problems could arise in the placenta through which nourishment is transferred to the fetus. For example, the early separation of placenta from the womb could result in bleeding that could prove lethal to both mother and fetus.
- Smoking also figures as one of the risk factors for SIDS.
- Birth defects are known to develop in infants born to mothers who smoke, such as cleft lip or cleft palate.
Maternal smoking ups risk of neurodevelopment disorders in newborns
A study, conducted by Patrick D. Quinn and his team of researchers on a population sample of 1.7 million Swedish children, assessed the link between smoking during pregnancy and acute mental illness in the children after birth. Although they failed to find a causal relationship between smoking during pregnancy and birth defects in the children, they found that the children exposed to moderate and extreme levels of smoking during pregnancy had considerably higher rates of acute mental illness rates than those who remained unexposed during pregnancy. The findings of the study were published in the journal Jama Psychiatry.
In an earlier meta-analysis, Cristina Manzano and her team identified relevant published studies or articles catalogued between 1992 and 2015 that examined the connection between maternal smoking and detrimental effects on the neurodevelopment of newborns. They found a strong supporting link between newborns who were exposed to tobacco smoke and development of stress and neonatal withdrawal symptoms. They also witnessed the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Other older studies have also linked maternal smoking with a twofold increased risk for developing bipolar disorder in offspring.
Identifying the underlying causes
The most likely reason behind the connection between maternal smoking and development of psychiatric disorders in offspring maybe due to the manner in which smoking affects nerve cells and modifies the chemical makeup of the brain. A number of researchers have found through brain imaging techniques that people indulging in smoking have reduced levels of the amino acid N-acetylaspartate in the anterior cingulate cortex, the area of the brain responsible for processing pleasure and pain. Therefore, heavy smokers typically have lower levels of these amino acids.
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