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According to an analysis of white and non-Hispanic black mothers in the US by Rutgers University researchers, infants exposed to maternal smoking during pregnancy are five times at risk of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) relative to infants not exposed to smoking.

Black mothers are more likely to report smoking than white mothers 

Although Black moms were more likely than white mothers to report smoking, the incidence of SUID was high for both groups’ babies as smoking increased. The threat levels were determined to be highest if smoking was continued during pregnancy.

Paediatrics professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and SIDS Center for New Jersey Barbara Ostefeld said smoking increases SUID risk. She said everybody planning to get pregnant needs to quit smoking. 

The researchers found that there were 1.07 SUID deaths in every 1,000 live births for babies of non-Hispanic Black never smokers, but the number increased to 3.8 for infants born to mothers that smoked throughout their pregnancy. Around 10% of Black moms of infants who survived smoked before or throughout pregnancy, as opposed to approximately 25% of moms of SUID victims.

The SUID rate was up in correlation with smoke exposure for babies of non-Hispanic white mothers jumping from 0.34 in every 1,000 live births for those who have never smoked to 2.33 for smokers. While more than half of the white moms of SUID deaths smoked, around 16% of white moms of infants who survived did so before or throughout pregnancy.

Smoking duration correlated with SUID

Irrespective of ethnicity, smoking duration had a considerable increment linked with SUID. The healthiest babies were those born to never-smokers, but the danger of SUID increased with each stage of in-utero exposure.

What was concerning is that those that smoked did so throughout the pregnancy. Smokers whose infants survived included 60% of white smokers and 54%  of Black smokers who did so throughout pregnancy. 

This research highlights smokers’ challenges when trying to quit and indicates that more successful methods and improved access to all services are needed nationally.