Mothers’ Smoking Linked to Infant Hospitalizations and Deaths

A new study on the impact of a mother’s tobacco use during pregnancy finds that smoking can result in a variety of infections in infants that can lead to both hospitalizations and deaths.

Researchers from the University of Washington reviewed hospitalization records and death certificates for both respiratory and non-respiratory illnesses for 50,000 infants born in the state of Washington between 1987 and 2004. Based on their findings the researchers estimated that the infants of mothers who smoked were fifty percent more likely to be admitted to a hospital or die from an infectious disease than babies of mothers who did not smoke.

“We’ve known for a long time that babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy are at high risk for serious medical problems relating to low birth weight, premature delivery and poor lung development,” said Abigail Halperin, MD, MPH, a co-author of the study and a lecturer in family medicine and health services at the University of Washington School of Public Health. “While respiratory infections have been recognized as a common cause of these sometimes life-threatening illnesses,” says Dr. Halperin, “this study shows that babies exposed to smoke in utero also have increased risk for hospitalization and death from a much broader range of infections—both respiratory and non-respiratory—than we knew before.”

The study also found that when mothers cut back on their cigarette smoking or quit part way through their pregnancy, the infants’ risk of infection was reduced. “Counseling pregnant women to reduce their smoking, if they are not able to quit completely, may help reduce infant hospitalizations or death,” said Dr. Halperin.

The study was presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, and published earlier this year in Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

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