Positive parenting behaviors in women who spontaneously quit smoking during pregnancy: Clues to putative targets for preventive interventions

Suena H. Massey, Daniel K. Mroczek, James L. Burns, Caron A.C. Clark, Kimberly A. Espy, Lauren S. Wakschlag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: While the majority of pregnant smokers do not respond to intervention, little is known about how a subset of pregnant smokers known as spontaneous quitters achieve sustained biologically-confirmed abstinence through delivery in the absence of intervention. We explore a developmental framework to address this question by viewing spontaneous quitting as an adaptive parenting behavior, facilitated by abilities necessary for sensitive parenting, or responsiveness. Utilizing existing data, we examined responsiveness from parenting assessments in women who exhibited a variety of smoking patterns during pregnancy, including spontaneous quitting. Methods: Participants were N = 305 pregnant women assessed for smoking prospectively and biochemically at 16 weeks, 28 weeks, delivery, and 4 weeks postpartum, then reassessed with their children 5 years later with directly-observed home- and lab-based measures of parenting. We used linear regression analysis to compare spontaneous quitters with women who exhibited other prenatal smoking patterns on parenting responsiveness, controlling for potential confounders. Results: In home-based observations, spontaneous quitters (n = 22) exhibited greater responsiveness with their children relative to intermittent pregnancy smokers [n = 70; β = 0.258, p =.022]; persistent pregnancy smokers [n = 66; β = 0.228, p =.040]; former smokers (quit before pregnancy) [n = 78; β = 266, p =.028]; and never smokers [n = 69; β = 0.312, p =.009]. Hypothesized differences were not observed in lab-based and self-report measures. Conclusions: Putative protective characteristics in spontaneous quitters were captured in mother-child interactions at home, but not in lab-based and maternal report measures of responsiveness. Specification of these characteristics using prospective designs that oversample for spontaneous quitters is recommended to enable translation to preventive interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-24
Number of pages7
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Maternal sensitivity
  • Pregnancy smoking
  • Prenatal tobacco exposure
  • Protective factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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