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Pregnancy Complications

Smoking During Pregnancy

Infants Born to Smoking Mothers Have Abnormal
 Breathing Patterns

Research has established that babies whose mothers smoked while pregnant may be as much as six times more likely to die from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) than babies of non-smoking mothers. A recent study suggests that changes in infants' breathing patterns resulting from exposure to cigarettes may explain why there is an increased risk.

Researchers from the TVW Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and the University of Western Australia in Perth studied 64 healthy infants ages two to 24 months to compare breathing patterns and responses to decreases in oxygen. Nineteen of the babies had mothers who had smoked during pregnancy, and 45 were born to non-smoking mothers. While the infants slept, researchers assessed breathing patterns under normal conditions, as well as how well they responded to decreased oxygen. Typically, when oxygen levels in the body decrease and/or carbon dioxide levels increase, the body attempts to correct this by a number of mechanisms, including increasing the rate and depth of breathing in order to "blow off" excess carbon dioxide and "bring in" more oxygen.

This is especially important in many cases of SIDS, where something is thought to interfere with this mechanism. Scientists believe that if they can determine the reason why some babies fail to respond normally, they can identify ways to prevent SIDS.

This study identified several striking differences between the breathing patterns of infants born to smoking mothers and infants of non-smoking mothers. In this study, babies of smoking mothers had a decreased respiratory drive and very little response to decreases in oxygen when compared with infants of non-smoking mothers. The number of cigarettes smoked was also important. Babies whose mothers smoked more than 10 cigarettes per day had the most pronounced changes in their breathing.

Quitting smoking can be particularly difficult during times of stress or change. This study emphasizes the need for continued education and support for the pregnant woman attempting to quit smoking.

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