Smoking During Pregnancy Indirectly Linked to Antisocial Tendencies in Kids

Women who smoke during pregnancy put themselves and their unborn children at risk for serious physical health complications. Research also suggests that smoking during pregnancy (SDP) increases antisocial behavior (ASB) in these children. Many studies have been conducted that demonstrate a very casual link between SDP and ASB, and others have shown a more direct link. However, familial risk factors and family environment also influence the potential for ASB in children. To disentangle these relationships and better understand how SDP affects ASB, Brian M. D’Onofrio, Assistant Professor of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University, recently led a study involving 6,066 children born to women who were part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a broad representation of women throughout the United States.

D’Onofrio looked specifically at SDP and later ASB from adolescent self-reports, affiliation with ASB peers, and criminal behaviors and beliefs. He found that the children who were born to SDP women were more likely to exhibit ASB and adhere to criminal attitudes. The results showed that the risk of ASB for the children increased with the amount of cigarettes smoked per day by the mothers during pregnancy. However, when D’Onofrio compared the adolescents to their siblings who were exposed to varying rates of SDP, the levels of ASB and criminal affiliation were not significantly different.

Overall, the results suggest that family environment, family risk, and SDP affect the likelihood of ASB in adolescents born to mothers who smoke during their pregnancies. Additionally, the SDP mothers had children with higher rates of academic and learning challenges than the non-SDP mothers. These children were also at increased risk for other conduct and behavior problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, maladaptive stress management strategies, and poorer functioning. Although the findings from this study did not present evidence for a clear and direct link between SDP and ASB, they did expose indirect relationships. D’Onofrio said, “The results strongly suggest that familial factors account for the correlation between SDP and offspring adolescent ASB, rather than a putative causal environmental influence of SDP.”

D’Onofrio, B. M., Van Hulle, C. A., Goodnight, J. A., Rathouz, P. J., Lahey, B. B. (2012). Is maternal smoking during pregnancy a causal environmental risk factor for adolescent antisocial behavior? Testing etiological theories and assumptions. Psychological Medicine, 42.7, 1535-1545.


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  • Demi


    May 31st, 2012 at 12:59 AM

    Scary Isn’t it! I have heard the odd person say one cigarette is fine…!

  • Beth


    May 31st, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    I think that there are probably a lot of factors that come into play here when you are talking about moms who smpke while pregnant. You would have to assume that for the most part these would not be the most educated households, because anyone with half a brain would grasp the importance of not continuing to smoke while pregnant. I would also bet that many of these same homes are also single parent homes or homes where there is not the best dynamic and relationship between the mom and the dad. So just these few things alone could lead to a child becoming very antisocial and not having the requisite skills for building friendships of trust and value.

  • susan


    May 31st, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    I disagree with Beth that its probably mostly single parents homes, as my experience is that its couples that both smoke, which seems to make it harder for the women to stop. I do think after everything we know about tobacco it should be banned.

  • natalie


    June 1st, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    When I read stuff like this it absolutely drives me mad! I have been trying for years to get pregnant with no success and have done everything that I know to do to make my body as healthy as possible to increase my chances of getting pregnant and being able to see that pregancy to term.

    But here are women who don’t even care enough about themselves or their unborn child to stop smoking, something that we all know is dangerous to both mom and fetus. Personally, I think that a little jail time might not be a bad idea to help stop some of this idiocy.

  • Amy


    June 7th, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    I agree with Natalie… My soon-to-be ex-MIL smoked throughout both entire pregnancies. This NURSE obviously knew better! I married her first child (who was very awkward socially) and the 2nd child passed away at 3-months-old from SIDS. This was about 30 years ago and she still doesn’t take responsibility for it!! Ugghh!
    Hope things take a positive turn for you really soon!! ;)

  • Susan


    June 8th, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    @ Natalie it is a nightmare when this goes on and you aren’t conceiving. I myself had 2 miscarriages and I also have 2 children. I was so angry when I saw pregnant women smoking its so unfair. However until they ban tobaccco and treat it like the drug it is, women will make peace with being addicted and pregnant.

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