Children exposed to alcohol before birth show deficits

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 16 Children exposed to alcohol in the womb continue to show effects of that exposure even at age 14, University of Pittsburgh researchers report.

Further, the results indicate pregnant mothers who consume considerably less than an average of one drink per day put their children at risk for growth deficits and that exposure, as early as the first trimester, increases that likelihood.

The study, in the October journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, is one of the first to follow the development of children with prenatal alcohol exposure into adolescence. Most previous findings have involved children who are younger, leaving doctors to wonder whether or not the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure would lessen after children passed through puberty.

"Our findings indicate timing is very important for prevention efforts," said principal investigator Nancy L. Day, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Children of mothers who drank at least one drink a day during their first trimester weigh up to 16 pounds less, on average, than children with no exposure."

In the study, Dr. Day found that by the age of 14, children whose mothers drank during pregnancy fell behind in weight, head circumference, height and skinfold thickness compared with those whose mothers abstained. The size of the growth deficits was directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed. The clinical implications for the children's long-term health are not clear, but the growth deficits could serve as a potentially permanent marker of prenatal alcohol exposure. This report did not look at impairments in IQ or other functioning.

The study is one of few that have followed children born to drinking mothers past early adolescence. Mothers were recruited for the study in their fourth prenatal month. These women were then interviewed at regular intervals throughout p

Contact: Craig Dunhoff
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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