Latimer: Smoking in pregnancy linked to schizophrenia

Another critical reason pregnant women should stop smoking all together.

Paul Latimer

Everyone knows pregnancy is a time to be healthy.

For the good of the baby expectant mothers are reminded to take pre-natal vitamins and folic acid, but avoid most other medications.

They should eat nutritious food, avoid too much caffeine, take a break from alcohol and get sufficient exercise.

Of course, smoking is also on the list of things a pregnant woman should stay away from if she wants her baby to thrive.

By now we all know smoking is bad for us as individuals and many studies have also shown it can have negative impacts on a developing baby resulting in a variety of health issues.

A new study out of Finland is the first to clearly link maternal nicotine use with later development of schizophrenia in offspring.

This study examined data from all live births in Finland between 1983 and 1998 and found the offspring of women with heavy nicotine use had a 38 per cent increased likelihood of developing schizophrenia.

This finding was found even after accounting for other factors such as maternal age, maternal or parental psychiatric disorders or socioeconomic status.

For the study, 977 offspring who eventually developed schizophrenia were compared against matched controls.

For all, maternal nicotine levels were measured using specimens stored from early and mid-pregnancy.

It is the first study of its kind linking a maternal smoking biomarker and schizophrenia.

As I said, we already know smoking is bad for us and also bad for developing fetuses.

Nicotine easily passes through the placenta and enters the fetal bloodstream in higher concentration than it occurs in the mother.

It also specifically targets brain development with both short and long term effects on cognition, neurotransmitter function and other chemical activity within the brain.

In spite of this, in western countries, between 12 and 25 per cent of pregnant women smoke.

Now we have additional evidence showing yet another reason women should abstain from smoking during pregnancy. Schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric illness that is life-long and can be debilitating.

Even more efforts must be made to encourage and support pregnant women in efforts to abstain from smoking during pregnancy.

Preventing fetal exposure to these harmful chemicals could result in a significant reduction in the incidence of schizophrenia and save much suffering and burden to the health care system.

In this study, the risk of schizophrenia was higher the more of the chemical was found in the mother’s bloodstream.

Smoking less or quitting even if mid-pregnancy could still have a protective effect.

If you are a smoker looking to quit, speak with your doctor about what supports are available.

There are a number of smoking cessation programs that could help you take this important step toward a healthier life.