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Women who smoke during pregnancy raise the risk their baby will develop a severe, potentially life-threatening illness of the bowel if the infant is born prematurely, a new study suggests.

The disease, necrotizing enterocolitis, is the most common gastrointestinal emergency in premature infants, according to HealthDay. The disease destroys tissue that lines the baby’s intestinal walls. An estimated 7 to 10 percent of American infants develop the disease.

While it is not known what causes the disease, many factors have been implicated, including bacterial infection, formula feeding and mechanical ventilation, the article notes.

The new study included 73 infants who were hospitalized for necrotizing enterocolitis. The researchers evaluated a number of factors including the mother’s smoking, blood pressure, weight, age and whether they had diabetes. They found maternal cigarette smoking was the only factor that was linked to an increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis.

The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

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