A new study revealed that nicotine exposure during pregnancy, whether from smoking cigarettes, or nicotine patches and e-cigarettes, increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as 'cot death', is the sudden and unexpected death of an infant under 12 months of age that occurs typically while sleeping. Failure of autoresuscitation, the ability to recover normal heart rate and breathing following gasping caused by lack of oxygen in the brain, has been recorded in human SIDS cases.
Researchers at the Physiological Society showed that exposure of the mother to nicotine during pregnancy can affect the baby's central nervous system and impair the baby's cardiorespiratory responses to stressful environments.
This can further damage a key biological mechanism called autoresuscitation that protects the infant from a severe lack of oxygen. Such failure of autoresuscitation increases the likelihood of SIDS because the infant is unable to recover from environmental stresses that cause lack of oxygen, such as getting tangled in bedding, a minor illness or a breathing obstruction.
Over recent years nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine patches or e-cigarettes, have been prescribed to women who wish to quit smoking during their pregnancy. However, these nicotine replacement therapies may not protect infants from SIDS.
This research suggested that the use of nicotine are not a safe alternative to cigarettes during pregnancy, because exposure to nicotine by any route may be harmful to a baby's cardiorespiratory function and increase the risk of SIDS.
The findings appeared in the Journal of Physiology.