Smoking while pregnant can impact your children’s health as an adult

Pregnant belly

Sydney researchers have shown how smoking while pregnant causes lung diseases in your children, and impacts their health well into adulthood.

In Australia, 15 to 25 per cent of women still smoke when they are pregnant.

“We know that maternal smoking is bad for children, and is associated with the development of respiratory diseases such as emphysema and asthma,” says researcher Yik Lung Chan, from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and University of Technology Sydney. “Our study looked at the mechanism by which this occurred, and whether its impact persisted into adulthood.”

Several lung diseases follow a mechanism called the RAGE pathway. This mechanism can increase inflammation and oxidative in the lung tissues which can then cause damage to the mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells.

The researchers exposed mice to either cigarette smoke (mimicking maternal smoking) or air twice a day, before and during pregnancy, as well as before weaning, when the offspring still rely on breastmilk.

Part of the group of mice exposed to the cigarette smoke were also given an antioxidant called MitoQ in their drinking water, in an attempt to lessen the impact of the smoke exposure.

At 13 weeks, by which time the mice had reached maturity, the researchers measured their lung inflammation and oxidative stress.

“We found that being exposed to cigarette smoke while they were in utero, or not yet weaned, did increase oxidative stress and inflammation in the mice’s lungs when they were adults,” says Yik.

“This indicates the long-lasting impact maternal smoking can have on a child’s lung health.”

While the mice who had also been taking the antioxidant showed less oxidative stress and inflammation than those who hadn’t, the researchers weren’t able to measure in this study if it affected their other organs.

“Pregnant women should stop smoking long before they start trying to conceive in order to protect the health of their children,” says Yik.

Contact: Yik Lung Chan, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research,

Banner image: Smoking while pregnant can lead to your children developing respiratory diseases in later life. ( Joanna Malinowska)

Yik Lung Chan in the lab.

Yik Lung Chan in the lab. (Credit: University of Technology Sydney)

Yik Lung Chan presenting his research at Fresh Science NSW 2017.

Yik Lung Chan presenting his research at Fresh Science NSW 2017.

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