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Health & Pregnancy

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Smoking While Pregnant Linked to ADHD in Children

Expectant moms' use of nicotine-replacement therapy could also spell problems for kids, study suggests

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Randy Dotinga

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 21, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children born to women who smoked during pregnancy appear to have an increased risk of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to new research.

The new study also hints -- but doesn't prove -- that nicotine-replacement products used during pregnancy, such as patches and gum, could pose the same risk to children. Still, this study suggests that nicotine itself, not just tobacco, may be a hazard during pregnancy.

"We've been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that if we can just get mothers to stop smoking and onto nicotine replacement, it will protect against any kinds of fetal damage in the developing child. This is a stark injection of reality about how that may not be the case," said Dr. Timothy Wilens, director of the Center for Addiction Medicine and acting chief of child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Researchers have long tried to pinpoint the hazards of smoking during pregnancy. Among other things, lighting up during pregnancy seems to boost the risk of miscarriage, pregnancy complications, premature deliveries, low birth weight and even obesity in the child's life, said study lead author Dr. Jin Liang Zhu, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Aarhus University in Denmark.

It's not clear how smoking and nicotine use in mothers may affect the brains of developing fetuses. Zhu said nicotine may cause abnormalities in the brain, while the products of cigarette smoke -- such as carbon monoxide -- could affect the brain, too.

It's also possible that other factors are behind the association between smoking in pregnancy and ADHD in children, the study authors suggested. ADHD tends to run in families, and people in families with ADHD are more likely to smoke. So, it's possible that the association seen in this study isn't a direct cause of expectant mothers' smoking, but may be the result of genetics or a shared environment where smoking is present, according to background information in the study.

ADHD is a common behavioral disorder in childhood, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include difficulty paying attention, impulsive behavior and problems with sitting still and getting along with others.

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