Danger of smoking while pregnant revealed in new research

Danger of smoking while pregnant revealed in new research

PanARMENIAN.Net - A new study shows smoking even one cigarette per day in pregnancy doubles the risk of a newborn baby dying, Vox reports.

While many people know that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the US, it’s less appreciated that some of those deaths are newborn babies.

Researchers don’t fully understand why cigarettes increase the risk of infant death, but they think it has something to do with nicotine’s effect on brain regions that interfere with a baby’s sleeping and breathing patterns. Smoking is also known to restrict the blood flow that carries vital oxygen and nutrients between mom and baby.

When smoking kills, it can happen quickly. Roughly 3,600 babies in the US die suddenly every year for unknown reasons. The blanket term for these unexplained deaths is SUID, or sudden unexpected infant deaths, of which SIDS is the most well-known type.

In a new study in Pediatrics, researchers estimated that if expectant moms would just quit smoking, we could prevent 800 of those deaths.

For the paper, a collaboration between Microsoft and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, researchers analyzed national vital statistics data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the 20 million US births and more than 19,000 cases of sudden infant death that occurred between 2007 and 2011.

The Microsoft team built a computational model to look at how the deaths correlated with maternal smoking behavior, controlling for a variety of potential confounding factors — or other variables that might have explained the increases in sudden deaths — including race and mothers’ education level.

“We wanted to make it so that the differences we saw in the data couldn’t be chalked up to differences in race or differences in any of these other variables,” said the study’s lead author, Tatiana Anderson, a PhD fellow at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, “and we still found this increased risk.”

To be more specific, the researchers discovered that any smoking during pregnancy — even a single cigarette — was associated with a doubling of risk of a newborn baby dying suddenly in his or her sleep.

And, said Anderson, “every additional cigarette increased [sudden infant death] risk. So smoking a pack a day triples your risk, and even if you quit by the first trimester, that still results in a 50 percent increase in the risk of sudden infant death.”

There were some limitations to the study. For one, the researchers can only describe correlations between the variables they looked at, but not whether one caused the other. In addition, they didn’t have data on mothers’ alcohol consumption, which might have had an impact along with smoking.

The overall risk of SUID is also small — less than 1 percent — and it’s difficult to know how many deaths are actually caused by smoking. SUID is an umbrella term for unexplained newborn deaths. It includes SIDS (which means an autopsy was performed but the cause of death is unknown); unknown (there was no autopsy and no known cause of death); and accidental death (a child was found in an unsafe sleeping position, an autopsy was done, but there’s no known cause of death).

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