Maternal Smoking and Stress Increases Daughter’s Risk of Nicotine Dependence

by Dr Antonio Howell, MD

in quit smoking

The 3 Week Diet

Plus 5 Quit Smoking Tips for Pregnant Women

Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to a wide range of negative outcomes affecting the child’s health. These include sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, and increase risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning problems, mental retardation and weak immune system. In the United States, 13-30 percent of women continue to smoke during pregnancy.

Now, a new study found a strong link between prenatal stress exposure and nicotine dependence later in life. The findings, which were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, also confirmed previous results suggesting that babies whose moms smoked when they were pregnant are more likely to develop nicotine addiction when they become adults.

“While maternal smoking during pregnancy has been shown to be an independent risk factor for nicotine dependence, we didn’t really know which pathways or mechanisms were responsible.” says Dr. Laura Stroud, the lead researcher from the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, RI. “Most prior research involving biological mechanisms had been conducted in animals not humans,”

The Study

The researchers used data from a large project which began in 1959, involving over 50,000 pregnant women. The children of those were followed by the team for 40 years. Of the participants, 1, 086 women participated. Their hormone levels were measured during pregnancy and their smoking status was recorded. Then, their children (649 were daughters and 437 were sons) were interviewed as adults. Their smoking status was also tracked.

Findings showed that among female offspring, prenatal cortisol exposure and exposure to maternal smoking during pregnancy were strongly related to increased rates of nicotine dependence as adults. Meanwhile, no substantial relationship was found between prenatal testosterone exposure and adult nicotine dependence.

According to the researchers, their study highlights the vulnerability of daughters to long-term adverse outcomes following maternal stress and smoking during pregnancy. “We don’t yet know why this is, but possible mechanisms include sex differences in stress hormone regulation in the placenta and adaptation to prenatal environmental exposures,” says Dr. Stroud. Furthermore, the new study suggests that nicotine and stress hormones may affect the male and female brains differently.

Quit Smoking Tips for Pregnant Women

Stroud argued that if daughters of smoking moms are more likely to smoke themselves when they grow up, the result will be “dangerous cycle of intergenerational transmission of nicotine addiction”. So if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant but you smoke, consider the following quitting tips:


1) Talk to your doctor. Learn about the different ways to quit smoking. Remember that not all of them are suitable for pregnant women so it’s always recommended to seek professional advice.

2) Find smoking alternatives. Nibble on carrots, sip tea, take a walk, meditate, or eat something healthy to satisfy your nicotine cravings. Find a healthy outlet for your smoking urges.

3) Think about your child. Consider the future of your child and how smoking can affect his or her health. Look at photos of babies with birth defects due to smoking.

4) Find someone who can quit with you. Or maybe someone who has successfully quit and can give you motivation to succeed too.

5) Work out. Exercising does not only help with your pregnancy, it is also an effective approach in fighting nicotine addiction.


Good health is the most precious gift you can give to your child. By stopping smoking today, you can ensure a brighter, healthier future for your kid.



Previous post:

Next post:

Click here to subscribe to my mailing list