The dangers of smoking to pregnant women and their babies are well documented1. They can include premature and low birthweight babies, miscarriage and increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). New information recently published in Science Daily2 indicates that smoking may impact a child’s hearing, as well.
New research indicates that when a women smokes during her pregnancy and after delivery, the baby may have hearing problems caused by development issues in the brainstem. The area of the brain that analyzes sound patterns is called the auditory brainstem. Researchers discovered that smoking may cause this part of the brain to develop abnormally, impairing hearing function in the baby.
Published in the Journal of Physiology, the authors of the research stated that “Children with impaired auditory brainstem function are likely to have learning difficulties and problems with language development.”
The study was conducted by adding nicotine to the drinking water of pregnant mice until it reached the levels found in human beings who are heavy smokers. The baby mice were exposed to the nicotine before they were born and for three weeks after birth, an age that approximated a human child in primary school. Scientists then measured nerve function in the auditory brainstem and their ability to fire and signal the brain properly. In the mice exposed to nicotine, the nerves were less able to process and transmit signals from the ear to the brain. They were also transmitted with “less precision, which deteriorates the coding of sound patterns.” In other words, children exposed to high levels of nicotine would have difficulty processing sounds.
The authors of the study say more research is needed to determine if other nerves in the auditory brainstem are affected, as well. However, they do advise that if children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy have learning problems at school, “…they should be tested for auditory processing deficits.”
Are electronic cigarettes also hazardous to pregnant woman’s health?
The CDC says that electronic cigarettes are just as hazardous to pregnant women and their babies as traditional cigarettes. This includes e-pens, mods and tanks. According to the CDC, even the lower nicotine levels of e-cigarettes do not make them safe to use while pregnant.