by Elizabeth Walling, citizen journalist
Picture a pregnant woman taking a long drag from a cigarette and you may picture a premature baby with a low birth weight, fighting for its first breath – but what most of us don’t picture is an aggressive child. However, new evidence points to smoking during pregnancy as a cause for aggression in children, says a study from the University of Montreal published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.
This conclusion comes from research which is part of a larger study looking at the behavior of 1,745 children, ages 18 months through 3 1/2 years. A child labeled as aggressive is described as being quick to bite, kick, hit or bully.
University of Montreal psychiatry professor Jean Seguin, co-author of the study, says this about smoking: “During pregnancy, it’s not a good thing. It affects the nervous system of the children in many ways, and this is one of them. It makes the kid harder to manage.”
The study looked at some interesting variables. Mothers-to-be with a history of antisocial behavior and who smoke 10 or more cigarettes a day had a 67 percent chance of having a child with aggression problems. Those who smoked less than 10 a day, or not at all, showed a 16 percent risk.
The study also showed smoking seemed to produce more aggressive children in families whose annual income was below $40,000. With this income, heavy smokers have a 40 percent chance of having a child with aggression problems. In families with an income of more than $40,000 a year, the risk plummets to 8 percent.
The researchers recommend women in the high-risk category – those who are heavy smokers with a history of antisocial behavior and a low household income – should be screened during pregnancy to see which families may need support to prevent the development of violent behavior in their children.
The variables in the study raise questions. If a mother has a history of antisocial behavior and an annual income of less than $40,000 then perhaps those are the main reasons behind aggression in her children and not smoking. After all, children from mothers with no history of antisocial behavior and with higher income are only somewhat more likely to show above average aggression if the mother smoked heavily during pregnancy. Pinning the behavior solely on smoking is going a little far.
However, smoking during pregnancy is behind a slew of other health problems in children – including prematurity, respiratory problems, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome and birth defects. The possibility of having an aggressive child is simply another negative to add to the list of reasons women clearly shouldn’t smoke while pregnant.