Washington: A new 40-year longitudinal study has warned that women who continue to smoke and live under stressful conditions during their pregnancy increase their daughter's chances of nicotine dependence later in life.
Tobacco smoking by pregnant women has long been viewed as a public health risk because of smoking's adverse effects on the development of a fetus.
Smoking during pregnancy is linked to numerous negative outcomes, including low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, and increased risk for attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder, and nicotine use in offspring.
Now, the new study provides strong evidence that prenatal exposure to maternal stress hormones predicts nicotine dependence later in life, but only for daughters.
It also confirms previous research that babies born to moms who smoked when pregnant have an increased risk of nicotine addiction in adulthood.
Dr. Laura Stroud, first author on this study and a researcher with the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, RI, said that the study suggests that maternal smoking and high stress hormones represent a 'double-hit' in terms of increasing an offspring's risk for nicotine addiction as an adult because mothers who smoke are often more stressed and living in adverse conditions.
The findings of the study revealed that in female but not male offspring, elevated prenatal cortisol exposure and exposure to maternal smoking during pregnancy were associated with increased rates of nicotine dependence as adults.
No links were found between elevated prenatal testosterone exposure and adult nicotine dependence. There were also no findings among male offspring.
The study is published in Biological Psychiatry.