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Alcohol use during pregnancy leads to greater risk of extreme preterm delivery

Preterm delivery, and particularly "extreme prematurity" defined as less than 32 weeks of gestation are major contributors to perinatal sickness and death worldwide. A new study has found that maternal alcohol use during pregnancy can contribute to a substantial increase in risk for extreme preterm delivery.

Results are published in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Preterm birth has increased in part because of assisted reproductive technology and indicated medical intervention, however, we believed that we could also detect the impact of alcohol," said Robert J. Sokol, distinguished professor of obstetrics and gynecology and Director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development at Wayne State University. "In most previous studies, pregnancy dating was much less certain; but we used ultrasound dating. Its like listening to FM radio, rather than AM radio that has a lot of static; it is easier to hear whats being said with less noise in the background."

Sokol and his colleagues collected data on exposure to alcohol, cocaine and cigarettes, as well as corresponding outcomes, from 3,130 pregnant women and their infants. As noted above, the researchers also used ultrasound to provide specific pregnancy dating. Of the newborns, 66 were extremely preterm, 462 were mildly preterm, and 2,602 were term deliveries.

Findings indicated that alcohol and cocaine, but not cigarette, use were associated with an increased risk of extreme preterm delivery; alcohol accounted for the lions share of the risk. Furthermore, the effects were greater in pregnancies among women older than 30 years of age.

"Although we found smoking to be associated with mild preterm, but not extreme preterm, delivery," said Sokol, "smoking remains a recognized risk for preterm delivery and should still be considered a problem from the fetal perspective."

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