Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could harm a baby’s development, researchers warn

16 October 2020

Alex Ward and Victoria Allan, Daily Mail:

E-cigarettes may not provide a safer alternative to smoking during pregnancy, warn researchers.

Nicotine in any form could negatively affect a baby’s development, said the psychologists.

They found the babies of mothers who smoked e-cigarettes during pregnancy had similar ‘abnormal reflexes’ to those whose mothers smoked traditional cigarettes.

Abnormal reflexes included a baby not grasping a finger or not becoming startled when a hand supporting their head was removed.

If an infant displays a number of abnormal reflexes, this could be a sign of impaired brain development.

Lead author of the study by a team at Durham University, Suzanne Froggatt, a PhD researcher, said: ‘Nicotine can cause widespread negative effects on the central nervous system, with animal studies indicating the devastating effects within the brain.

‘Given the uncontrolled amount of nicotine in e-cigarette consumption and the effects on the foetus which can be seen post-natally, we don’t believe that mothers should be encouraged to use e-cigarettes during pregnancy.’

The team admitted the study was small and more investigation was needed ‘so health professionals can provide women with a better informed choice about harm reduction’. 

Scientists studied the outcomes of 83 one-month-old babies. 

Forty-four of the mothers did not smoke during pregnancy, 29 did, and ten smoked e-cigarettes. 

The babies were all born at least 37 weeks into pregnancy. Babies of mothers who smoked traditional cigarettes had significantly lower birthweights and head circumference than the rest.

The babies who were exposed to nicotine in the womb had a greater number of abnormal primitive reflexes and decreased ‘self-regulation’ compared to the babies of non-smokers.

Self-regulation abilities included how consolable babies were after crying, self-quieting as well as hand-to-mouth movements.

NHS guidance on e-cigarettes during pregnancy warns they are ‘fairly new and there are still some things we do not know’.

Experts pointed out the limitations of the study, which was published in the journal E Clinical Medicine, including its small size. They said e-cigarettes were often used as a transitional tool to quit smoking.


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