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Smoking During Pregnancy Tied to ADHD

Update Date: Jul 22, 2014 10:50 AM EDT

Smoking during pregnancy can increase the baby's risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study reported. The researchers added that pregnant women's use of nicotine-replacement products, such a patches and gum, can also increase ADHD risk for the unborn baby.

"We've been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that if we can just get mothers to stop smoking and onto nicotine replacement, it will protect against any kinds of fetal damage in the developing child. This is a stark injection of reality about how that may not be the case," said Dr. Timothy Wilens, director of the Center for Addiction Medicine and acting chief of child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, reported by Medical Xpress.

For this study, the researchers reviewed the medical records of almost 85,000 children born in Denmark. The children's mothers had participated in the study from 1996 to 2002. A little more than 2,000 children had signs of ADHD. The researchers examined the relationship between ADHD and the presence of a smoker in the household.

They found that 1.8 percent of the children with signs of ADHD had nonsmoking parents. Two percent of the children with signs of the disorder had a father who did not smoke and a mother who had quit smoking. On the other hand, the rate of children with ADHD symptoms who lived in a household where both parents smoked was higher, at 4.2 percent.

The team then looked at families where the father was not a smoker. They found that the rate of ADHD was highest, at 3.8 percent, in families where the mother used nicotine-replacement therapy. When the mothers were smokers, the rate was 3.4 percent. The ADHD rate fell to 2.9 percent in children living in households where the fathers were the smokers and the mothers were on nicotine-replacement therapy.

The researchers concluded that the overall number of pregnant women who smoked or used nicotine-replacement therapy was small. Only 29 mothers with children suffering from ADHD symptoms had used such products during their pregnancies. Due to the small number, the researcher stated the their findings are "more uncertain." However, they added that since smoking is one of the top leading causes of death, quitting the habit and preventing exposure to a fetus could be beneficial.

"If at all possible, try not to smoke when conceiving," Dr. Wilens said. "If you think you've conceived and you're smoking, it's best to come off cigarettes as quickly as possible. If you need to use nicotine-replacement therapy, use it for as short a time as possible."

The study was published in the journal, Pediatrics.

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