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Is the growth of the child of a smoking mother influenced by the father's prenatal exposure to tobacco? A hypothesis generating longitudinal study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere005030
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number7
DatePublished - 11 Jul 2014


Objectives: Transgenerational effects of different environmental exposures are of major interest, with rodent experiments focusing on epigenetic mechanisms. Previously, we have shown that if the study mother is a non-smoker, there is increased mean birth weight, length and body mass index (BMI) in her sons if she herself had been exposed prenatally to her mother's smoking. The aim of this study was to determine whether the prenatal smoke exposure of either parent influenced the growth of the fetus of a smoking woman, and whether any effects were dependent on the fetal sex.

Design: Population-based prebirth cohort study.

Setting: Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

Participants: Participants were residents of a geographic area with expected date of delivery between April 1991 and December 1992. Among pregnancies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy, data were available concerning maternal and paternal prenatal exposures to their own mother smoking for 3502 and 2354, respectively.

Primary and secondary outcome measures: Birth weight, length, BMI and head circumference.

Results: After controlling for confounders, there were no associations with birth weight, length or BMI. There was a strong adjusted association of birth head circumference among boys whose fathers had been exposed prenatally (mean difference −0.35 cm; 95% CI −0.57 to −0.14; p=0.001). There was no such association with girls (interaction p=0.006). Similar associations were found when primiparae and multiparae were analysed separately. In order to determine whether this was reflected in child development, we examined the relationships with IQ; we found that the boys born to exposed fathers had lower IQ scores on average, and that this was particularly due to the verbal component (mean difference in verbal IQ −3.65 points; 95% CI −6.60 to −0.70).

Conclusions: Head size differences concerning paternal fetal exposure to smoking were unexpected and, as such, should be regarded as hypothesis generating.

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