Deficits associated with prenatal alcohol exposure can be seen as early as infancy

  • Most of the research on prenatal alcohol exposure has been conducted with children.
  • A new study uses heart-rate data collected from six-month-old babies to examine the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
  • Even as early as infancy, slower processing speeds and arousal-regulation problems are apparent.

Most of the research on arousal and attention deficits caused by prenatal alcohol exposure has been conducted with children. An innovative new study, published in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, examines different components of attention through use of heart-rate data collected from six-month-old infants whose mothers drank during pregnancy. The findings indicate that slower processing speeds and arousal-regulation problems exist as early as infancy.

"The postnatal environment that children experience has a tremendous impact on children's cognitive status and attentional regulation skills," explained Julie A. Kable, assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine and first author of the study. "Children of women who consume large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy and/or are substance abusers often experience family environments that do not support optimal development. As a result, when you examine older children it is often difficult to partition out the impact of the prenatal exposure with the impact of the postnatal environment. Assessments conducted closer in time to the insult provide a more accurate picture of the teratogenic effect."

"From a clinical point of view," added Sandra W. Jacobson, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine, "tests such as the ones used in this study are important since it is critical to identify affected children as early in infancy as possible. Interventions are more likely to prove effective when implemented early in development and when sp


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