"Furthermore, there was a significant association between maternal smoking and drinking," said Gauthier. "In other words, many of the women who were drinking alcohol during pregnancy were also smoking as well. Previous studies have suggested an increased risk of infection in the newborn exposed to smoking, as well as infectious carriage of organisms in pregnant women who smoke. Therefore, the concurrent abuse of both alcohol and smoking in the mother may synergistically affect the developing immune system. However, our data suggest that maternal alcohol use increases the risk of newborn infections even if she did not smoke. More studies are needed to identify the mechanisms behind these potential risks, and if the combination of smoking and alcohol synergistically increases the risk."
Both Gauthier and Jerrells hope that these findings will motivate further research on the effects of maternal alcohol consumption on developing organ systems in both the term and premature newborn, as well as the combined effects of alcohol consumption and smoking on the newborn.
"It remains unknown how even a small amount of alcohol exposure can affect the newborn infant in terms of infection, particularly before or early in the pregnancy," said Gauthier. "Therefore, all women of child-bearing age, including teenagers, must recognize that drinking alcohol before or during the time when they may become pregnant is dangerous for themselves as well as their baby."