Study: Prenatal smoking may affect girls’ reproductive health

A woman’s decision to smoke during pregnancy may have a lifelong impact on their daughter’s reproductive health, according to the findings from a new study.

A study of nearly 1,500 Australian girls looked at whether prenatal exposure to cigarette smoking and birth weight influenced the age at which a girl begins to menstruate. The researchers followed girls from birth to ages 12 or 13.

The research confirmed that maternal smoking and lower birth weight increased the chance of early menstruation, as do other factors, such as high body mass index of the girls.

And since early menstruation is linked to a higher risk of uterine, endometrial and breast cancers as adults, the researchers say prenatal smoking could lead to lifelong health problems.

“The real take home message of this study is that we have probably just hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding just how harmful smoking during pregnancy can be on the child,” lead author Alison Behie, a biological anthropologist at Australian National University in Canberra, told Reuters Health.

The researchers found several factors that influenced the age at which the girls would begin menstruating: the mother’s age at her first period, the girl’s weight, the girl’s birth weight and prenatal smoking.

The girls exposed to regular smoking in utero were about 40 percent more likely than girls of non-smoking mothers to begin menstruating at a young age. Girls with low birth weights were about 14 percent more likely than normal-birth weight girls to begin menstruating at a young age, the researchers found.

Girls with a higher BMI at 8 to 9 years old were about 12 percent more likely to have early menstruation.

The researchers plan to continue tracking the girls, with another evaluation when they’re 14 to 15 years old.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at or 360-735-4546.

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