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Babies whose mothers smoke during pregnancy have an increased risk of being hospitalized for potentially deadly infections, according to new research.

The study included an analysis of hospital records and death certificates of 50,000 babies born in Washington state, HealthDay reports. Infants whose mothers smoked while they were pregnant were 50 percent more likely to be hospitalized or to die from infections, compared with infants whose mothers did not smoke. Even full-term babies with normal weight were found to be at increased risk for hospitalization or death from infections if their mother smoked.

When women cut back on their smoking or quit entirely during their pregnancy, their babies had a lower risk of infection, the study found. “Counseling pregnant women to reduce their smoking, if they are not able to quit completely, may help reduce infant hospitalizations or death,” said study author Dr. Abigail Halperin.

Cigarette smoke may weaken a baby’s immune system, according to Dr. Halperin. She will present her findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting this weekend. The study appeared earlier this year in the journal Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

“We’ve known for a long time that babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy are at high risk for serious medical problems relating to low birth weight, premature delivery and poor lung development,” Dr. Halperin said in a news release. “While respiratory infections have been recognized as a common cause of these sometimes life-threatening illnesses, this study shows that babies exposed to smoke in utero [in the womb] also have increased risk for hospitalization and death from a much broader range of infections — both respiratory and nonrespiratory — than we knew before.”

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