Alcohol, women and pregnancy

  • Pregnant women who drink moderate to heavy amounts place their offspring at risk for developmental deficits.
  • Previous research suggests that alcohol exposure later in pregnancy may be particularly damaging.
  • A new study has found that moderate alcohol exposure during early pregnancy may be just as damaging to neurobehavioral development as continuous or late exposure.
  • Neurodevelopmental deficits caused by early exposure were more obvious than growth impairments.

There is little question that women who drink heavily during pregnancy place their children at risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), characterized by growth retardation, craniofacial anomalies, and mental retardation. However, women who drink moderate amounts of alcohol may also place their children at risk of developing less severe deficits (once known as fetal alcohol effects but now called alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder), characterized by a lower IQ, attention deficits, learning deficits, and reduced social competence. A study in the August issue ofAlcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has discovered that a crucial factor for the developing fetus may be 'when' a woman drinks. Researchers found that moderate alcohol exposure during early pregnancy may be just as damaging to neurobehavioral development as continuous or late exposure.

"Previous research has found that alcohol exposure later in pregnancy is strongly associated with problems in growth and behavioral development," said Mary L. Schneider, professor of occupational therapy and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author of the study. "Yet women who report drinking late in pregnancy have usually consumed alcohol throughout and so it is hard to disentangle early drinking from late drinking. In addition, while animal studies have established that high doses cause numerous impairments, many questions remain regarding the issue of 'moderate' feta


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