Page last updated at 23:17 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 00:17 UK

Pregnant smoking 'psychosis link'

Pregnant woman
About 15% of pregnant women smoke

Mothers who smoke during pregnancy put their children at greater risk of psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, a study suggests.

A UK survey of 12-year-olds found those whose mothers had smoked were 20% more likely to suffer such problems.

The link was 84% more pronounced if 20 or more cigarettes a day were smoked.

The researchers suggested tobacco exposure in the womb may affect the child's brain development, but admitted further study of the issue was needed.

The research by Cardiff, Nottingham, Bristol and Warwick universities was part of a long-running study known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children looking at how genetics and the environment affects health.

Maternal smoking may be an important risk factor in the development of psychotic experiences in this population
Dr Stanley Zammit, lead researcher

During this latest part of the programme, 12-year-olds were asked if they had had any psychotic episodes such as delusions and hallucinations in the past six months.

In total, 11% of the group did, the British Journal of Psychiatry reported.

The group was also studied for their mother's use of cannabis and alcohol.

No link was found for the drug, while only those whose mothers drank more than 22 units had a higher chance of psychotic episodes.

Researchers said the findings added more weight to the argument against smoking during pregnancy - about 15% of pregnant women still do not give up the habit when they conceive.

Lead researcher Dr Stanley Zammit said: "Maternal smoking may be an important risk factor in the development of psychotic experiences in this population."

He said the cause of the link was unclear, although it was likely to be related to the development of the brain's function governing attention and cognition.

However, he said further research was needed into the issue.

Dr Ken Checinski, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, agreed.

"The findings are compelling, but we must not jump to conclusions.

"The results need to be replicated in other studies now to be sure.

"However, we already know that smoking during pregnancy is linked to a number of others risks, such as low birth-weight and complications."

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