What is the effect of prenatal second-hand smoke exposure on infant self-regulation?

Research shows that prenatal second-hand smoke (SHS) exposure, also referred to as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure, increases the risk of various neurodevelopmental problems in children. However, 12 states in the United States still lack general smoking laws.

Study: Associations between prenatal exposure to second-hand smoke and infant self-regulation in a longitudinal prospective birth cohort in New York City.  Image credit: Lion Day/Shutterstock
Stady: Associations between prenatal exposure to second-hand smoke and infant self-regulation in a longitudinal prospective birth cohort in New York City.. Image credit: Lion Day/Shutterstock

New study in environmental research It aims to analyze an important gap related to the effect of exposure to forced smoking in the prenatal period on infant self-regulation.


Nicotine can cross the placenta and bind to nicotinic receptors affecting the development and function of the cholinergic and dopaminergic systems resulting in alterations in attention, hyperactivity, and inhibitory control in rodents. SHS also includes heavy metals that can alter autoregulation in children.

In addition, active maternal smoking during pregnancy has been associated with difficulties in self-regulation, altered self-regulatory structure, and neural circuit function in infants.

Early exposure and prenatal exposure to secondhand smoke was also associated with altered prefrontal circuit function, increased hyperactivity, and externalizing behaviors among preschool-age and 5-6-year-old children. However, it is not known to what extent the effects of the secondhand smoke phenomenon appear and whether or not they can be detected during childhood.

Self-regulation is an important part of development that refers to the ability of an individual’s emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. An individual’s ability to self-regulate can be determined by age-sensitive measurement approaches.

Infant self-regulation is determined using the infant’s self-behavioral contingency ratio and the degree of stability or variability in the individual’s behavioral cadence. Infants can process sequences of behavior and emergencies and develop expectations based on such contingencies.

Infants have been reported to have predictable autonomic contingency patterns of emotion, attention, infant-initiated touch, and head orientation. Self-reliance is often neutral, and low self-contingency indices indicate a less predictable and more diverse process, while high self-contingency indices indicate a more predictable and less diverse process.

about studying

The study involved participants in the Just Birth cohort at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH). The Fair Start study involved recruiting pregnant women who received prenatal care, were 18 years of age or older, spoke Spanish or English, and most of whom self-identified as Hispanic.

The registered participants were then invited to a study visit to assess mother-infant interaction at the infant’s age of 4 months. The current study included the first 99 mother-infant pairs who completed the 4-month visit plus data on environmental exposure to tobacco smoke.

Secondhand tobacco smoke was assessed through a self-report questionnaire during the prenatal visit. The infant’s or mother’s self-regulation is initiated through behavioral self-reliance. This was followed by an analysis of the face-to-face interaction between the mother and the infant from four months of age and is suitable for assessing the infant’s social development.

Two video cameras were used to create an upper torso view of infants in infant seats and mothers seated across. Three modes of communication were analyzed for children, including vocal influence, facial influence, and gaze, and three for mothers, including touch, gaze, and facial influence.

Time-series models were used to assess the second-by-second course of behavior within and between individuals, followed by weighted delay time-series analysis and individual seconds time-series models. Behavioral codes were created for both infants and mothers according to their expected behaviour.


Results indicated that among the 99 mother-infant pairs who had prenatal SHS data and completed the 4-month face-to-face visit, most of the mothers were black and/or Hispanic. Subjective contingency was reported to be lower in infants exposed to prenatal forced smoking across all method pairs. It was observed that infants who were exposed to forced smoking before birth switched to codes with less negative or more positive sound effect.

It has also been reported that babies who were exposed to forced smoking before birth are more likely to move into squinting when they are looked at as well as vice versa. They also had a more diverse multimodal contingency in facial impact over vocal impact prediction.

Decreased self-sufficiency in mothers exposed to forced smoking during pregnancy has been reported in two ways, and an effect on the mother’s face was analyzed in relation to the infant’s vocal stimulus and the infant’s gaze. Mothers exposed to compulsive smoking were more likely to switch to a less negative/more positive effect on the face, similar to infants. However, maternal self-continuity has been reported to be higher in two ways; The mother’s touch was analyzed in relation to the infant’s vocal sway, as well as in relation to the infant’s gaze.

It was reported that infant reactive ER was higher in infants subjected to forced exposure in two models; The infants’ gaze was analyzed in relation to the mother’s face sway and in relation to the mother’s touch. It was reported that maternal interactive contingency was higher in two methods, the effect of the mother’s face in relation to the infant’s vocal stimulus and the mother’s touch in relation to the infant’s gaze were analyzed.

Moreover, it has been observed that children who have been exposed to forced smoking are more silent than those who are not exposed. It was observed that the mothers who were subjected to forced smoking used a ‘moderate smile’ and a lower ‘interest increase’.


The current study demonstrates that exposure to forced smoking among infants can lead to disorganized behaviour. This can negatively affect the development of the child in the future. This study uses self-regulation as a diagnostic indicator for future psychological problems. Linking self-regulation to prenatal exposure to chemicals could help improve public health prevention programs that may reduce such exposures.


It is important to note that the study has several limitations, including; Small sample size SHS is measured by self-report and was not validated by biomarker data The study could not control for possible co-morbidities such as postpartum exposure to second-hand smoke along with pre- or post-natal exposure to household or ambient air pollutants that It was also associated with self-regulation.

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