Newborns whose mothers smoke during pregnancy have the same nicotine level as grown-up smokers and almost certainly spend their first days of life going through withdrawal, a new study finds.
"The baby of a smoking mother should be considered to be an ex-smoker," said Dr. Claude Hanet of St. Luc University Hospital in Brussels.
The study, conducted principally by Dr. Laurence M. Galanti of Mont-Godinne University Hospital in Namur, Belgium, was presented Wednesday at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology.
In the United States, smoking during pregnancy is on the decline. But the latest data show that 15 percent of women still use cigarettes while pregnant.
Exposure to tobacco in the womb stunts fetal growth so babies are born small. After birth, these babies are more likely to suffer sudden infant death or have lung trouble, among other health problems.
Robert Merritt, a behavioral scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said the latest data "support what we have been saying all along: Smoking is not good for you, period."
The study was conducted on 273 children, including 139 babies just one to three days after birth. The researchers checked their urine for cotinine, the substance that remains when nicotine breaks down in the body. It lingers for several days after exposure to nicotine.
Cotinine levels in the newborns of smoking mothers were about 550 nanograms per milligram of urine, virtually the same as the level found in the smoking women.
Amounts in toddlers with smoking mothers were much lower _ about 200 nanograms _ but still considerably higher than in adult non-smokers exposed to smoke at home.
"These data underline the importance of prevention programs intended to reduce exposure of children to tobacco smoke," Galanti said.