According to a new study mums-to-be who smoke are not only putting their unborn children at increased health risk but future generations also.
Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) have found that the life-long effects of maternal smoking during pregnancy may occur through specific changes in DNA patterns.
They showed that children exposed in the womb to maternal smoking had differences in DNA methylation, an epigenetic mechanism in which small chemical compounds are added to DNA.
"This could open up a new way for researchers to investigate biological mechanisms that might explain known health effects associated with maternal smoking," she added.
Prenatal exposure to smoke is associated with a number of health problems, including childhood asthma, cardiovascular disease, and lower pulmonary function later in life.
"Moms should not be smoking during pregnancy," said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health that helped fund the USC study.
"Maternal smoking during pregnancy is not only detrimental to the health of the mom and the newborn child, but research such as this suggests that it may impact the child into adulthood and possibly even future generations as well," she added.
The study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.