Smoking While Pregnant May Make Daughter Dependent on Nicotine

By Shawn Dwyer 01/13/14

Though researchers aren’t exactly sure why, but mom’s smoking during pregnancy raises the risk of her daughter becoming hooked on nicotine later in life.

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A 40 year study recently published in the journal Biological Psychiatry has found that women who smoke during pregnancy increase the risk of their daughters becoming addicted to cigarettes later in life.

Using data from a large and long-term national project that began in 1959, lead author Dr. Laura Stroud examined the results of 1,086 mothers who had their hormone levels and smoking status recorded. Researchers then examined their children – 649 daughters and 437 sons – and discovered that the female offspring’s exposure to elevated prenatal cortisol and maternal smoking led to increased nicotine rates as adults. But with male offspring, there were no links found between elevated prenatal testosterone exposure and smoking as adults.

“Our findings highlight the particular vulnerability of daughters to long-term adverse outcomes following maternal stress and smoking during pregnancy,” said Stroud. “We don’t yet know why this is, but possible mechanisms include sex differences in stress hormone regulation in the placenta and adaptation to prenatal environmental exposures.”

Stroud went on to say: “Also, cortisol and nicotine may affect developing male and female brains differently. Furthermore, if daughters of smoking mothers are more likely to grow up nicotine dependent, the result is a dangerous cycle of intergenerational transmission of nicotine addiction.”

Smoking during pregnancy has long been known to be harmful to the health of an unborn child, resulting in birth defects such as cleft lip, being born prematurely, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.