TUESDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- Vitamin C may help prevent lung problems in babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy, according to a small new study.
Pregnant women are advised not to smoke because it can harm the baby's lungs and lead to problems such as wheezing and asthma. But if a pregnant woman can't quit smoking, taking vitamin C may help protect their baby's lungs, researchers found.
The study included 159 women who were less than 22 weeks pregnant and unable to quit smoking. They were randomly assigned to take either one 500-milligram capsule of vitamin C or a placebo each day for the remainder of their pregnancy.
Forty-eight hours after birth, babies born to women who took vitamin C had significantly better lung function than those whose mothers took the placebo. During their first year, wheezing was reported in 21 percent of infants whose mothers took vitamin C and in 40 percent of infants whose mothers took the placebo. The rate among infants born to nonsmokers was 27 percent.
The researchers also found that 22 percent of infants in the placebo group needed medication for wheezing, compared with 13 percent of those in the vitamin C group and 10 percent of those in the nonsmoking group.
The study was presented this week at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
"Vitamin C is a simple, safe and inexpensive treatment that may decrease the impact of smoking during pregnancy on childhood respiratory health," lead author Dr. Cynthia McEvoy, an associate professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University Children's Hospital, said in an American Academy of Pediatrics news release.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. And although the study showed an association between vitamin C use and better lung function in infants, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.
"Getting women to quit smoking during pregnancy has to be priority one, but this finding provides a way to potentially help the infants born of the roughly 50 percent of pregnant smokers who won't or can't quit smoking no matter what is tried," study co-author Dr. Eliot Spindel, a senior scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University, said in the news release.
The March of Dimes has more about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy.