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Dev Psychol. 2011 Jan;47(1):153-6. doi: 10.1037/a0020724.

Prenatal tobacco exposure: developmental outcomes in the neonatal period.

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Office of Research, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 303 Canfield Administration Building, Lincoln, NE 68588-0443, USA.


Smoking during pregnancy is a persistent public health problem that has been linked to later adverse outcomes. The neonatal period--the first month of life--carries substantial developmental change in regulatory skills and is the period when tobacco metabolites are cleared physiologically. Studies to date mostly have used cross-sectional designs that limit characterizing potential impacts of prenatal tobacco exposure on the development of key self-regulatory processes and cannot disentangle short-term withdrawal effects from residual exposure-related impacts. In this study, pregnant participants (N = 304) were recruited prospectively during pregnancy, and smoking was measured at multiple time points, with both self-report and biochemical measures. Neonatal attention, irritable reactivity, and stress dysregulation were examined longitudinally at three time points during the first month of life, and physical growth indices were measured at birth. Tobacco-exposed infants showed significantly poorer attention skills after birth, and the magnitude of the difference between exposed and nonexposed groups attenuated across the neonatal period. In contrast, exposure-related differences in irritable reactivity largely were not evident across the 1st month of life, differing marginally at 4 weeks of age only. Third-trimester smoking was associated with pervasive, deleterious, dose–response impacts on physical growth measured at birth, whereas nearly all smoking indicators throughout pregnancy predicted level and growth rates of early attention. The observed neonatal pattern is consistent with the neurobiology of tobacco on the developing nervous system and fits with developmental vulnerabilities observed later in life.

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