The Effects of Nicotine on Newborns

Nicotine is a drug that is considered to have negative side effects on babies similar to illegal drug use during pregnancy, notes Science Daily. Casual smoking, even as few as six cigarettes per day, can cause physical effects on newborn babies. Although cigarette smoking is legal, pregnant women who continue to smoke during pregnancy may have babies who exhibit withdrawal symptoms similar to babies who have withdrawal symptoms from heroin or crack, explains Science Daily.

Nicotine has detrimental effects on newborns. Credit: julief514/iStock/Getty Images

Stunted Growth and Brain Development

Dr. Sears explains that nicotine reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to a baby in the womb. Carbon monoxide from the cigarette smoke blocks the oxygen, slowing both the physical growth of the baby and its brain development. Baby Center notes that mothers who smoke during pregnancy double the chance that the baby will be small at birth, possibly weighing less than 5 1/2 lbs. Altered brain development can also affect the center of the brain that regulates bodily organs such as the lungs and heart. Dr. Sears goes on to explain that nicotine's effect on the brain is thought to increase the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

Immature Lungs and Prematurity

Newborns that are born to mothers who smoke have an increased risk of being born prematurely. Baby Center explains that babies who are born too early often have immature lungs that cannot handle breathing on their own and may require medical assistance for the first few days or even weeks of the baby's life. Asthma is also more frequent in babies who were exposed to nicotine while in the womb.

Behavioral Problems

The behavior of a newborn exposed to nicotine is similar to the behavior of a newborn exposed to illicit drugs such as cocaine. Brown Medical School explains that newborns exposed to nicotine exhibit symptoms such as jitteriness and excitability. Brown also notes that these babies are difficult to console and may be stiff or rigid when held. The amount of cigarettes smoked by the mother during pregnancy will influence the severity of these symptoms.

Long-Term Effects

Newborns exposed to nicotine exhibit symptoms as they grow and get older. According to Dr. Sears, these newborns may have a lower level of mental performance by the time they are a year old and lower I.Q. scores once they become school age. These newborns may also grow to be smaller in stature with a smaller head circumference than other children who weren't exposed to nicotine while in the womb.

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