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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Colorado: Prenatal and Postnatal Tobacco Exposure Influence Neurocognitive Development, Regardless of Birth History

Although many women attempt to quit smoking during pregnancy, more than one-third of children in the U.S. are exposed to some level of tobacco in utero. Prenatal exposure to tobacco is a well-established risk factor for preterm delivery and low birth weight, but little research has been done on the effects of prenatal tobacco exposure on offspring with normal birth histories. A new study published in Pediatrics followed mother-child pairs in which the child was full-term and weighed at least 2500 g at birth to determine the effects of tobacco exposure.

Mothers in the study had their urine screened for cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, at 27 weeks pregnant. The researchers divided the moms into no smoking, passive smoking (secondhand smoke), and active smoking based on their cotinine concentration.

Researchers tested the children on several different cognitive domains at four to five years old. The children whose mothers fell into the passive or active smoking category pre-birth scored lower on fine motor skills and inhibitory control tasks, though the reduction in inhibitory may also be related to post-birth tobacco exposure.

Most classroom activities in pre-K and kindergarten involve fine motor skills, like coloring, tracing, cutting, and drawing, putting these students at an educational disadvantage early on. Early life fine motor function may also be related to math achievements later in school, while inhibitory control is important in complex problem-solving.

Screenings to ensure children are hitting developmental landmarks can help identify and address problems early. The authors of the study recommend increasing screenings for children exposed to tobacco in utero to offset developmental issues early.

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