Drinking Even A Small Amount in Pregnancy Can Affect Child’s Brain Development

There has been long standing debate on whether pregnant women can consume small amount of alcohol occasionally or not. A new study, reviewing this particular relationship has found that even low levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can affect how the brain of a child develops.

This kind of drinking can also have long lasting consequences like psychological and behavioral problems including anxiety, poor attention span and depression. These findings were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The research was funded by Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Prevention and Early Invention in Mental Illness and Substance Use, National Institute of Health (USA), and California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program of the University of California.

The research team conducting the study observed psychological, behavioral, neural and cognitive differences between 9,719 children of the ages nine and ten. This is the largest study to ever observe the impact of low level of drinking in pregnancy on the health of a fetus.

Low level of drinking in the study was defined as one to two drinks per occasion with maximum of six drinks per week. The study found that 25% of the children had been exposed to alcohol in the womb with 60% being exposed to lower levels and 40% exposed to higher levels.

Scientists found that children who were exposed to low levels of alcohol in the womb experienced more psychological and behavioral problems. The research team also concluded from the data that there was a 25% increased likelihood of the child being diagnosed with ADHD if they’d been exposed to higher levels of alcohol during the first seven weeks of pregnancy.

“Our research found that even small amounts of alcohol consumed while pregnant can have a significant impact on a child’s brain development,” said lead author Ms. Briana Lees, Ph.D. candidate at the Matilda Centre.

She added, “Previous research has shown that very heavy alcohol use, such as binge drinking, during pregnancy can cause harm to the baby. However, this study shows that any alcohol use during pregnancy, even low levels, is associated with subtle, yet significant behavioral and psychological effects in children including anxiety, depression and poor attention.”

From previous data we know that most women find that they are pregnant after five or six weeks of conception. In other cases, it is often difficult for women to change their lifestyle and quit drinking suddenly. When a person drinks, the alcohol passes into the blood.

In cases of pregnancy the alcohol can travel through the blood into the placenta. The placenta is the connection between the mother and the baby. When the fetus grows, the liver is one of the last things to develop. This means that the fetus cannot clear the alcohol out of its system properly. Too much exposure can lead to poor growth and learning and behavioral problems.

Current evidence suggests that a pregnant woman should limit drinking to one or two units of alcohol per week. This equates to a medium (175 ml) glass of wine which has about two units (depending on type of alcohol).

A while ago, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) proposed that people’s alcohol consumption while pregnant should be recorded on the child’s medical records in order to help diagnose and prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). However, this move was met with unfavorable views from pregnancy rights advocates.

Though, the debate regarding the amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy is ongoing, many believe that women should cut off alcohol altogether during this time for the safety of the baby. Professor Maree Teesson, Director of the Matilda Centre, agrees with this assessment and suggests that “the safest option during pregnancy is to abstain from drinking any alcohol.”

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