The study conducted by Australian National University (ANU) determined that mothers who admitted they smoked most days during pregnancy had daughters that had their first menstrual cycle earlier or menarche.
Lead researcher Dr. Alison Behie mentioned that reaching menarche at an earlier age increases the number of ovulation cycles a woman will have in her life, and puts her at greater risk of developing reproductive cancers possibly due to increased exposure to hormones such as estrogen.
“We’re discovering more and more that major aspects of our biology, and even our behavior, are set before we are born,” Behie, a biological anthropologist from the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology, said in a statement. “We know the mother’s exposure to stress, such as smoking in this case, can influence the long-term health of the child. Understanding factors that lead to early menarche, especially preventable ones, are important given these long term health implications and increased cancer risk for women.”
There is a significant number of health risks children will face when mothers smoke during pregnancy, including birth weight, reduced lung capacity, asthma and obesity, but never before this study has smoking been associated with developing cancer later in life.
In the study, researchers gathered and examined data on 1,500 girls from the Australian Government study (Department of Social Services, the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics) Growing Up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.
Researchers, along with medical community, hope the finding will help mothers further understand the risks of smoking on their child.
The findings are published in journal Human Reproduction.