Nicotine Replacement During Pregnancy Linked to Obesity in Offspring

Nicoderm Patch on ArmThe risks of smoking during pregnancy are widely known including a recent study that link maternal smoking during pregnancy to an increased risk of nicotine dependence in daughters. Now a new study published online in the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology suggests that women who use nicotine replacement during pregnancy in an attempt to quit smoking may increase the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome in their children.

States Daniel Hardy, PhD, an assistant professor at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University in Canada and the lead author on the study:

“We knew smoking was bad during pregnancy. But the problem is one fifth of pregnant women in Canada continue to smoke, and 30 prospective studies have shown us that that babies born to smoking mothers have a 47 per cent increase in the odds of becoming overweight. And here’s the interesting thing, that’s even after adjusting for mom’s diet and socioeconomic status.”

Maternal smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, cleft lip, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies born to mothers who smoked are also at an increased risk of developing respiratory (lung) problems as well as other health issues such as diabetes and obesity.

In the present study, the researchers also linked nicotine replacement during pregnancy to an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome. In other words, nicotine exposure, not just smoking, is linked to an increased risk of health problems in children.

Using a rodent model, the researchers gave pregnant laboratory rats the same amount of nicotine that an average smoker receives each day (one milligram of nicotine per kilogram of weight). Common nicotine replacement therapies contain approximately 10 milligrams of nicotine, or the equivalent of 10 cigarettes.

At birth, the offspring of the rats given nicotine were smaller in size when compared to offspring born to mothers not given nicotine. However, upon reaching adulthood, the rats exposed to nicotine during pregnancy had developed increases in liver and circulating triglycerides, hallmarks of obesity.

The researchers also discovered that triglyceride production increases in the liver after long-term exposure to nicotine.

Although Hardy agrees that nicotine replacement is safer for women and their offspring than smoking, he stresses the need for further investigation of the long-term safety and effectiveness of nicotine replacement during pregnancy as well as the effects on postnatal health and wellbeing of offspring.

Women who decide to use nicotine replacement during pregnancy should consult with their health care provider about dosage and timing.


Fetal exposure to nicotine alone increases long-term risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome:
Nicotine replacement in pregnancy linked to offspring obesity:

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