Nicotine hits newborns hard

Even casual smoking during pregnancy produces behavioural changes in newborn babies similar to those induced by illegal drugs, research has found.

Scientists found that women who smoked just six to seven cigarettes per day gave birth to babies who were more jittery, more excitable, stiffer and more difficult to console than newborns of non-smokers. And the higher the dose of nicotine measured in a mother, the greater the signs of stress in her new baby.

The behavioural changes were similar to those found in newborns of women who use crack cocaine or heroin while pregnant – and were strong enough to suggest that babies go through a “nicotine withdrawal” response.

Researcher Karen Law, from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. said: “We have a legal drug in nicotine that may have the same toxic effect as illegal drugs. It is a huge public health concern that so many people are suffering the costs of smoking, including newborns.”

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