Does Nicotine During Pregnancy Cause Colic?

Pregnant woman breaking a cigarette

Could quitting smoking have negative side effects for your baby? Hurry, someone call Betty Draper!

New research shows that nicotine-replacement products – that’s the gum, patches and inhalers people use when they’re trying to give up cigarettes – might in fact negatively affect the baby. A study published byPediatrics suggests that pregnant women who use nicotine-replacement products could be giving birth to babies with an increased risk of developing colic. Colic is a phase of inconsolable crying in infants that sometimes lasts for months.

Although having a baby who cries a lot doesn’t sound like a drastic health issue, consider the mental and emotional strain on the entire family of a baby who cries upwards of 3 hours a day for more than 3 days a week and for more (usually much more) than 3 weeks in a row. That’s not good for anyone, baby included.

We all know that smoking cigarettes is bad for developing fetuses (and has itself been tied to an increased risk of colic). This new study tests the effect of nicotine alone – smoke or no smoke – including small amounts present in products women are using because they want to avoid smoking during pregnancy. In the study of 63,000 moms who gave birth between 1996 and 2002, women who used nicotine-replacement products were 60 percent more likely to have a child with colic than moms who did not have nicotine in their systems at all.

How do the numbers shake out? About 7 percent of babies whose moms never used nicotine had colic compared to 9 percent of babies whose moms smoked and 11 percent of babies whose moms used nicotine replacements. In other words, the smoking cessation tactic worked out worse.

So, is it better to smoke than to quit with replacement products? The lead author of the Danish study, Dr. Ioanna Milidou, told Reuters that if the alternative to using nicotine replacements is to smoke, it’s probably better to avoid the cigarettes because of all the known risks of smoking.


“I think what people are trying to say now is it may still be a better option than smoking during pregnancy, but it may have other consequences that haven’t been explored yet,” said Alison Holloway, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Even though no one has yet proven a direct link between nicotine and colic, the evidence sure makes a good case for going cold turkey.