Scientists have now found why cigarette smoking pregnant women put their infants at greater risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

According to an article in the recent issue of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology, the nicotine affects the brain centers that regulate breathing and causes death. SIDS is the major cause of infant deaths in their first year of birth.

The study says that prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke increases infant death risk by 2 to 5 fold and results in premature birth, which is another significant risk factor for SIDS. However, it has not been determined how the chemicals present in cigarette affect the baby in the uterus.

The article “The Effect of In Utero Cigarette Smoke Exposure on Development of Respiratory Control: A Review" written by Hemant Sawnani, Erik Olsen, and Narong Simakajornboon, from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (Ohio) is based on studies on both humans and animals.

During the study it was found that nicotine exposure in utero alters breathing patterns and ventilatory response compromising normal respiratory functions such as auto-resuscitation. Pregnant women pause more while breathing and delay waking up from sleep due to low oxygen. This finding is important as it opens important clue on why smoking during pregnancy increases the risk SIDS.

Harold Farber, MD, MSPH, Editor of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology, “These findings highlight the importance of public health policies to prevent the development of tobacco dependence in adolescent girls and the importance of treatment of maternal tobacco dependence prior to pregnancy. Perhaps when young women are freed from the chains of tobacco addiction we can then truly say that 'you have come a long way… for your baby,”.