Smoking in pregnancy is a controversial topic, but what about vaping? Is it as harmful to the child as smoking tobacco?
Researches Suzanne Froggatt, Nadja Reissland, and Judith Covey from the Psychology Department at Durham University conducted a study in an attempt to provide some answers to these questions.
The study observed 83 infants born to smoking, vaping, and non-smoking non-vaping mothers. As a result, the children were prenatally exposed to cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or neither of those. The researchers assessed differences for birth outcomes and scores on the Neonatal Behavioural Assessment Scale (NBAS) at the age of one month.
They looked at the baby’s reflexes such as the ability to grasp caregiver’s finders (neurobehavioral response) and the ability to be relaxed when held (self-regulation).
The findings indicated that the children born by mothers smoking tobacco were most affected. The children born by mothers who vaped during pregnancy had results similar to the children born by mothers who neither smoked nor vaped.
According to the study, in both the smoking and vaping exposed groups, infant motor maturity was decreased. The children born by smoking mothers did significantly worse in both motor maturity and self-regulation. The researchers also reported observing a greater number of abnormal reflexes in these two groups.
Children exposed to e-cigarettes and children not exposed to nicotine had the same results in terms of birth outcomes. On the other hand, children exposed to smoking had a lower birth weight and head circumference.
The study provided the first glimpse of information regarding the effects of vaping during pregnancy, which is a step in the right direction. Further studies are warranted, especially since many scientists have raised concerns regarding the methodology and sample size.
Professor Jamie Brown, Director of the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group at University College London, asserted that it’s important to assess the risks of using e-cigarettes during pregnancy. One of the concerns raised regarding the published study is that most vapers were previously smokers or even used e-cigarettes and tobacco interchangeably. As a result, the findings may be skewed due to the possibility that the mothers in the vaping group could have used cigarettes previously or after giving birth.
To a similar point, Michael Ussher, Professor of Behavioral Medicine at St George’s, stated that the researchers in this study didn’t assess whether the vaping mothers smoked cigarettes in the days or weeks leading to the assessments. He also emphasized that “it is incorrect to use the term ‘smoking e-cigarettes’ as there is no smoke in vapor. The evidence remains that smoking cigarettes is far more harmful than vaping and vaping may help women to stop smoking.” This indicates the researcher’s fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of vaping.
Linda Bauld of the University of Edinburgh further warns that the findings should be critically examined. She stated that the team conducting the study operated from the standpoint that nicotine could cause impaired brain development in babies. However, other trials have shown that children whose mothers used nicotine replacement therapy showed normal development in the first two years of their lives. She also added that the authors didn’t acknowledge the fact that vaping was self-reported by the mothers and smoking was assessed just once in the 32nd week of pregnancy, which could affect the results if vaping mothers had also smoked at some point.
Another reason vaping in pregnancy must be explored further is that the study only included 10 mothers who vaped. The sample size is too small to draw reliable conclusions. In addition, Emeritus Professor John Brighton of the University of Nottingham argues that two out of 10 vaping mothers went back to smoking after childbirth. Also, he notes that the study wasn’t randomized.
The scientific facts that are certain from this study are that babies exposed to vaping during pregnancy were significantly less affected than babies exposed to smoking tobacco.
Of course, erring on the side of caution, it would be best to drop both habits completely until more information is available.