Maternal smoking during pregnancy, a new research study warns, is a major risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), with nicotine likely as the active agent.
Researchers Hemant Sawnani, Erik Olsen, and Narong Simakajornboon, from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Ohio, summarized the evidence from both human and animal studies, showing nicotine (in cigarette smoke) interferes with the development of the parts of the brain that control breathing.
Prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke puts infants at a 2- to 5-fold increased risk of SIDS and contributes to premature birth - another risk factor for SIDS.
Nicotine exposure in utero leads to altered breathing patterns and ventilatory responses that compromise respiratory arousal and auto-resuscitation.
Infants of mothers who smoked during pregnancy have more pauses in breathing (infant apnea) and have decreased ability to wake up from sleep in response to low oxygen.
This sheds light on why smoking during pregnancy increases risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS, crib death).
"These findings highlight the importance of public health policies to prevent the development of tobacco dependence in adolescent girls and the importance of treatment of maternal tobacco dependence prior to pregnancy," said Harold Farber, associate professor of Pediatrics, Section of Pulmonology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX.
The research study is published in the recent issue of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology.