The study done by Free University of Berlin in Germany showed that when pregnant mothers are exposed to nicotine, it could lead to abnormal development in kids, such as hampering the auditory brainstem - an area of the brain which plays a role in analysing sound patterns. Children with impaired auditory brainstem function are likely to have learning difficulties and problems with language development.
"If mothers smoke during pregnancy and their children show learning difficulties at school, they should be tested for auditory processing deficits," said lead author Ursula Koch, professor at the Free University of Berlin.
For the study, published in The Journal of Physiology, the team exposed the offspring of the mice to nicotine before birth and via the mother's milk until they were three weeks old - an age that is approximately equivalent to primary school children.
Analysing the brains of the mice offsprings, the researchers found that neurons that get input from the cochlea - sensory organ in the ear - were less effective at transmitting signals to other auditory brainstem neurons in mice exposed to nicotine. Moreover, these signals were transmitted with less precision, which deteriorates the coding of sound patterns. These could be part of the underlying causes for auditory processing difficulties in children of heavy smoking mothers, the researchers said.
"We do not know how many other parts of the auditory system are affected by nicotine exposure. More research is needed about the cumulative effect of nicotine exposure and the molecular mechanisms of how nicotine influences the development of neurons in the auditory brainstem," Koch said.
Health experts have highlighted this fact several times before that smoking during pregnancy can lead to serious health issues for the growing baby inside. Nicotine is a potent chemical with the capability of causing havoc for kids and adults alike. The phase of pregnancy is an important phase, where several factors must be kept in mind in order to secure the life of the mother and growing baby. As much difficult as it may be to give up smoking, since nicotine is highly addictive, there is no other way to ensure that your child doesn't face any health problems in the future. Even passive smoking is found to be harmful for health, so one can only imagine how hazardous direct smoking could be. Research studies have found that the repercussions of smoking during pregnancy are such that it could even alter the baby's DNA, leading to abnormalities. A recent study states that nicotine exposure before and after birth may put babies at an increased risk of developing hearing problems due to abnormal development in the auditory brainstem.