Background: A major challenge in prenatal drug exposure research concerns the balance of measurement quality with sample sizes necessary to address confounders. To inform the selection of optimal exposure measures for the HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study, we employed integrated analysis to determine how different methods used to characterize prenatal tobacco exposure influence the detection of exposure-related risk, as reflected in normal variations in birth weight. Methods: Participants were N = 2323 mother-infant dyads derived from 7 independent developmental cohorts harmonized on measures of exposure, outcome (birthweight), and covariates. We compared estimates of PTE-related effects on birthweight derived from linear regression models when PTE was categorized dichotomously based on any fetal exposure (30% exposed; 69% not exposed); versus categorically, based on common patterns of maternal smoking during pregnancy (never smoked 69%; quit smoking 16%; smoked intermittently 2%; smoked persistently 13%). We secondarily explored sex differences in PTE-birthweight associations across these categorization methods. Results: When PTE was categorized dichotomously, exposure was associated with a − 125-g difference in birthweight (95% C.I. -173.7 – −76.6, p < .0001). When PTE was characterized categorically based on maternal smoking patterns, however, exposure was associated with either no difference in birthweight if mothers quit smoking by the end of the first trimester (B = -30.6, 95% C.I. -88.7–27.4, p = .30); or a − 221.8 g difference in birthweight if mothers did not [95% C.I. (−161.7 to −282.0); p < .001]. Qualitative sex differences were also detected though PTE x sex interactions did not reach statistical significance. Maternal smoking cessation during pregnancy was associated with a 239.3 g increase in birthweight for male infants, and a 114.0 g increase in birthweight for females infants (p = .07). Conclusions: Categorization of PTE based on patterns of maternal smoking rather than the presence or absence of exposure alone revealed striking nuances in estimates of exposure-related risk. The described method that captures both between-individual and within-individual variability in prenatal drug exposure is optimal and recommended for future developmental investigations such as the HBCD Study.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107035
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021


  • Birthweight
  • Infant
  • Pregnancy
  • Protective factors
  • Sex differences
  • Tobacco


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