Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Maternal Smoking Can Predict Toddlers' Bad Behavior

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Maternal Smoking Can Predict Toddlers' Bad Behavior

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Two-year-olds whose mothers smoke regularly during pregnancy are significantly more likely to exhibit clinically disruptive behavior than are children of nonsmoking mothers, according to a review presented at a conference on tobacco control sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

"What we found was that nicotine exposure was linked to aggressive behavior, defiance, and lower social skills," said Lauren S. Wakschlag, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois, Chicago.

"We still don't know that there is a causal link," she said. "But the evidence that nicotine-exposed children are more likely to have behavior problems is there, and it is very consistent."

To the researchers' surprise, nicotine exposure was not associated with emotional dysregulation--for reasons that remain unclear.

Ninety-three children were involved in the study. Overall, the 44 children exposed to nicotine in the womb were more defiant, more aggressive, and less social, compared with the 49 children who were not exposed--even after controlling for multiple variables.

The mothers were primarily non-Hispanic white and working class, which reflects the demographics of the typical pregnant smoker in the United States. Mothers of the nicotine-exposed children reported smoking consistently during at least two trimesters of their pregnancies, and 47% of them smoked more than half a pack (about 15 cigarettes) daily.

The children were assessed at 12, 18, and 24 months of age using maternal reports on the Infant-Toddler Social Emotional Assessment test. The 24-item ITSEA provides a clinical measurement of behavior in children as young as 1 year and rates traits such as peer aggression on a three-point scale. The children also were observed during a 20-minute interaction with their mothers in a laboratory setting.

Overall, nicotine-exposed children were almost 12 times as likely to have clinically significant behavior problems; 14 of 16 children with ITSEA scores in the clinical range were in the nicotine-exposed group, Dr. …

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