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Smoking Moms-Kids’ Behavior Linked

April 13, 2000

CHICAGO (AP) _ Women who smoke while pregnant are far more likely to have children who develop behavior problems as toddlers, researchers reported today in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The findings add to a growing body of research indicating that smoking by mothers-to-be can harm children.

Nearly all 2-year-olds exhibit some rebelliousness, risk-taking and impulsiveness. But such behavior was four times more likely in toddlers whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, according to the study.

The findings suggest a chemical root for the problem behavior, since the researchers took into account sociological factors that might have affected the children, such as a mother’s stress, personality and income level.

Dr. Alan Leshner of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which funded the study of the 99 toddlers and their mothers, said smoking might alter children’s behavior by exposing the fetus to nicotine, which could reduce the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain.

The researchers, led by Judith Brook of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, also suggest, as others have, that problem behavior linked to maternal smoking is likely to continue into adolescence.

Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to low birthweight, retardation and even criminal behavior in adulthood. Previous research also has linked it with behavioral problems in children. Leshner, however, said the current study stands out because the authors adequately took into account other factors that could explain misbehavior.

About 20 percent of pregnant American women smoke. They give birth to about 800,000 babies each year.

``The message is an important one _ that people need to take the risks of smoking during pregnancy far more seriously,″ Leshner said.

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