Obstetricians often talk to pregnant women about the potential health threats associated with smoking while pregnant. The talks continue after baby is born as the pediatrician steps in and talks about the increased risk of colds and respiratory problems in children living with smoking parents. SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome has also been linked to the smoking habits of mothers, but until this report, doctors did not understand why there was a connection.
According to the study published in Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology, nicotine may be the sole reason for increased risk of SIDS. It is thought that nicotine affects brain development. Specifically, the parts of the brain that control breathing. Mothers who smoke during pregnancy may be feeding baby a constant source of nicotine which then causes damage to the brain receptors responsible for breathing. After birth, sleep apnea and difficulty arousing from sleep may be signs of increased SIDS risk.
Researchers believe this information is enough to boost the campaign against maternal smoking. Doctors are encouraged to talk with women who are of child birth age about the effects of smoking on the unborn fetus. If smoking is stopped before pregnancy, there is no increased risk of SIDS due to nicotine induced brain damage.
No specific numbers were reported in the study in terms of percentage of increased risk. It was reported, however, that both animals and humans showed brain damage as a result of exposure to nicotine during pregnancy.
Source: Hemant Sawnani MD, Erik Olsen BE, Narong Simakajornboon MD. Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology. November 2010.