Effects of alcohol and smoking during pregnancy on infant autonomic control

Dev Psychobiol. 2009 Apr;51(3):234-42. doi: 10.1002/dev.20366.


Prenatal exposure to smoking and alcohol increases the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Physiological changes associated with these exposures are not well studied. Full-term infants were tested within the first 3 days of life. We hypothesized that maternal alcohol consumption and/or smoking during pregnancy would alter autonomic nervous system function. Newborns whose mothers smoked during pregnancy had lower beat-to-beat heart rate variability in quiet sleep. Infants whose mothers consumed alcohol had lower global heart rate variability, but only in active sleep. Unexposed infants demonstrated increases in heart rate with head-up tilt and decreases in heart rate with head-down tilt, but smoking and alcohol-exposed infants showed no significant responses. These results indicate that autonomic function is altered by prenatal exposure to alcohol and smoking. Such markers may provide early identification of infants at greatest risk for SIDS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Birth Weight / physiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Hematocrit
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Prone Position / physiology
  • Pulmonary Ventilation / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Risk Factors
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology*
  • Tilt-Table Test
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution