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Smoking while pregnant damages children's mental health

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The risk of a baby developing psychological problems in childhood and adolescence is increased if the mother smokes while pregnant, researchers have found.

The research at Turku University Hospital in Finland is the first to connect a child’s poor mental health, such as depression, to prenatal smoking.

The birth records of around 175,000 children born in Finland in the late 1980s were analysed, as were any instances of psychotropic drugs being used on the children as they got older.

According to the researchers, the children whose mothers smoked while pregnant were around a third (32 per cent) more likely to have been prescribed psychiatric medicine than children whose mothers did not smoke while pregnant.

Those whose mothers smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day while pregnant are apparently 44 per cent more likely to be prescribed psychiatric medicine during childhood than those whose mothers did not smoke while pregnant.

Commenting on the findings, US psychology professor Neil Grunberg, from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Maryland, said: “This is an interesting study which raises the important possibility that prenatal exposure to smoking may pose additional risks that have not been identified to date but, based on the information available so far, the effect seems to be small.”

The findings were to be presented Tuesday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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