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Dreading the 'Terrible Twos'? Don't Smoke, Mothers Warned

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Lauren Wakschlag PhD, a researcher at the University of Chicago, notes that it's not clear that smoking during pregnancy actually causes behavior problems in the offspring. She points out that many children born to women who smoked while pregnant don't develop behavior problems.

"There's a pretty robust set of work ... linking maternal smoking during pregnancy with severe antisocial behavior, such as conduct disorder or criminality. It's pretty clear the two are associated, but we don't know yet if it's causal and we don't know why they're associated," Wakschlag tells WebMD.

Many people know of the effects of maternal smoking on newborns, such as low birth weight or premature births. They may be less aware of the long-term effects of maternal smoking, says Wakschlag, director of the Preschool Behavior Problems Clinic at the University of Chicago.

Wakschlag urges women who smoke to cut down on cigarettes, even if they can't quit. She urges women to keep their doctors informed about their smoking throughout pregnancy, and she urges physicians to guide their patients in reducing or quitting smoking.

"I'm not pointing a finger to blame [smoking] mothers," she tells WebMD. "We know these women have an addiction, and there are treatments available."

Vital Information:

  • Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have toddlers who display negative behaviors, such as impulsiveness, risky behavior, and rebelliousness. These behaviors often persist into adulthood.
  • If a woman who smokes becomes pregnant, she should try to quit or at least cut down on smoking to prevent these behavior problems as well as premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Researchers are still unsure why smoking during pregnancy is associated with negative behaviors.
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