I know that smoking definitely causes health problems for mothers and their children. Even smoking around toddlers is dangerous and can cause as many issues as smoking during pregnancy. However, I didn’t know that maternal smoking can actually affect a child’s mental health as well as their physical health.

A recent study conducted by the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, in collaboration with scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California found that maternal smoking increases the chances of developing bipolar disorder increase twofold.

The study examined a child health and development study from between 1959 and 1966, and the participants were 79 parent-child pairs as well as 654 comparison subjects. The original study was the first to examine the effects of maternal smoking to see how they affected a child’s mental health. Prior to the study, it was known that smoking during pregnancy caused a wide variety of problems before and after pregnancy, but researchers were curious what other parts of the body were affected.

The study found a significant link between bipolar disorder (BD) and maternal smoking. BD is a serious psychiatric illness that is characterized by rapid and drastic shifts in mood to the point where the person suffering from the disorder moves back and forth between extreme depression and mania. Usually, the symptoms begin to show up around the late teens and early adulthood.

Dr. Alan Brown, senior author and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Epidemiology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University and Mailman School of Public Health, said that "these findings underscore the value of ongoing public health education on the potentially debilitating, and largely preventable, consequences that smoking may have on children over time.”

Other authors of the study also commented that "much of the psychopathology associated with prenatal tobacco exposure clusters around the 'externalizing' spectrum, which includes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), and substance abuse disorders. Although not diagnostically classified along the externalizing spectrum, BD shares a number of clinical characteristics with these disorders, including inattention, irritability, loss of self-control, and proclivity to drug/alcohol use."

Basically, this means that children of parents who smoked during pregnancy may not develop the full disorder, but may instead show a wide range of symptoms that are often associated with BD.

Source: Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health (2013, October 1). Smoking during pregnancy may increase risk of bipolar disorder in offspring. ScienceDaily.