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Drinking during pregnancy has yet another consequence: premature delivery

  • Once used to prevent early delivery, alcohol is now recognized as a cause of preterm delivery.
  • Alcohol can both inhibit fetal development and precipitate premature delivery.
  • The amount, timing and pattern of drinking during pregnancy may determine risk.
  • There is likely a "critical period" during pregnancy during which alcohol can induce preterm birth.

Based on animal studies conducted during the 1960s, alcohol was once given to women during the 1970s and even the 1980s to prevent preterm birth. Then researchers discovered fetal risks associated with alcohol consumption, more specifically, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol effects (FAE). Not until recently, however, have researchers understood that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can actually cause early delivery.

"A lot more attention has been given to the effects of alcohol on the fetus than its effects on the mother," said Jocelynn L. Cook, Post-Doctoral Fellow of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Alberta's Perinatal Research Centre and lead author of a paper recently published in the November edition of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Yet, observed Cook, alcohol can affect the fetus both directly, by restricting its growth, and indirectly through the mother, by prompting early delivery (before 37 weeks of gestation).

"There are two reasons babies can be small," said Robert J. Sokol, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development at Wayne State University. "One, short gestation or too short a time and two, they grow less well while they're in there. Alcohol is probably associated with both of these. We already knew about growth restriction due to prenatal alcohol exposure, but Dr. Cook's study shows us there's another reason babies are smaller."

Premature or preterm delivery is associated with a number of health consequences, including lo
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Contact: Jocelynn L. Cook, Ph.D.
jlc21@gpu.srv.ualberta.ca
780-492-2727
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research
13-Nov-1999


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