E-cigarettes may be no safer than tobacco for expectant mothers because of the risks of exposing babies to nicotine, a study has warned.
Psychologists at Durham University found that babies of mothers who smoked e-cigarettes during pregnancy displayed similar abnormal reflexes to infants whose mothers smoked traditional cigarettes, and warned that nicotine could be the culprit.
Abnormal reflexes occur when a baby does not grasp a finger with their hand or is not startled if the hand supporting their head is suddenly removed.
The study also found that higher amounts of nicotine correlated with less “motor maturity” in babies, such as how floppy or rigid a child is when held.
Researchers recommended more study into the effects of nicotine – which is found in both cigarettes and some vaping products – and warned it could have “devastating effects” on the brain.
Current NHS guidance says e-cigarettes are “likely to be much less harmful to a pregnant woman and her baby”.
The health service recommends pregnant mothers use nicotine replacement products, like patches or gum, to wean themselves off tobacco while pregnant.
The Durham study analysed the neurobehaviour of 83 one-month-old babies including 44 born to mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy, 29 who smoked cigarettes and ten who smoked e-cigarettes.
While the sample size of the study is small, the results suggest nicotine is harmful to a fetus regardless of how it is ingested.
Suzanne Froggatt, the study’s lead author, said: “Nicotine can cause widespread negative effects on the central nervous system, subsequently affecting brain development, with animal studies indicating the devastating effects within the brain.
“Although e-cigarettes might expose the mother to fewer toxins than cigarettes, given the uncontrolled amount of nicotine in e-cigarette consumption and the effects on the fetus which can be seen post-natally, we don’t believe that mothers should be encouraged to use e-cigarettes during pregnancy.”