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Smoking During Pregnancy May Be Linked to Schizophrenia

Pregnant woman breaking a cigaretteSmoking during pregnancy increases the likelihood that the fetus will develop schizophrenia later in adulthood, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Previous research has shown smoking during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, damage the placenta, lead to preterm labor and low birth weight, and increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and birth defects. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 12-20% of pregnant women smoke.

Prenatal Exposure to Nicotine Linked to Schizophrenia

The study compared outcomes in people prenatally exposed to nicotine to those who were not exposed to the drug. To compare the two groups, researchers gathered data on 977 Finnish cases of schizophrenia drawn from a study of all births between 1983 and 1998. The study included almost a million prenatal blood samples.

The team compared outcomes in the children of women who had cotinine—nicotine’s primary metabolite—in their blood in early or mid-pregnancy to those who did not. The findings showed women who smoked during pregnancy had an increased risk of giving birth to a child who later developed schizophrenia. Among women who were heavy smokers, the risk increased by 38%.

The study controlled for other factors that might increase the likelihood of schizophrenia, including a parental history of psychiatric diagnoses and socioeconomic status, but the risk still remained.

Smoking or Nicotine?

The study relied on blood serum levels of nicotine and self-reports of smoking. Because the data was collected before the widespread use of electronic cigarettes or nicotine replacement therapy, fetuses exposed to nicotine were likely only exposed through cigarette smoke. This research does not provide information on whether other forms of nicotine consumption pose similar risks, but it does establish a correlation between nicotine exposure and the later development of schizophrenia.


  1. Niemelä, S., Sourander, A., Surcel, H., Hinkka-Yli-Salomäki, S., Mckeague, I. W., Cheslack-Postava, K., & Brown, A. S. (2016). Prenatal nicotine exposure and risk of schizophrenia among offspring in a national birth cohort. American Journal of Psychiatry. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.15060800
  2. Smoking during pregnancy. (2015, July). Retrieved from
  3. Smoking during pregnancy associated with increased risk of schizophrenia in offspring. (2016, May 24). Retrieved from
  4. Tobacco use and pregnancy. (2015, September 9). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Celeste

    May 25th, 2016 at 10:25 AM

    I am of the opinion that anyone who smokes while they are pregnant is knowingly and willingly endangering the life of the child and so I am not opposed to them being arrested o at least fined. This is a public health issue that even though we don’t gnat to step in and feel like rights are being taken away, I mean my Lord, we know what the dangers are and if we don’t step in and do something about it then we are just going to continue down that path of destruction that we seem h*** bent to be on. It is ridiculous that expectant mothers would even think that this is ok to continue to do.

  • Samantha

    May 27th, 2016 at 10:03 AM

    People are still going to make stupid choices though.,

  • Jessy

    May 28th, 2016 at 1:25 PM

    nothing definitive here, people, notice they still say “may be”

  • laurence

    May 30th, 2016 at 7:09 AM

    I am always fascinated with the findings of studies like these, or more accurately, the amount of time and research that goes into them. I mean you have to know that you are talking studying years and years of family history and weeding out the things that seem to be important and then those that don’t really have anything to do with the findings. I just happen to think that those who do studies like this are just much more dedicated to their game that say me, who is not the poster child for patience lol

  • Dave

    May 30th, 2016 at 3:51 PM

    People will always make some bad choices, but I really don’t understand how that has anything to do with me. I say we have to live and let live, they are the ones who have to live with the consequences of what their actions are.

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