Page last updated: August 19, 2013
The effect of drinking alcohol during pregnancy on balance ability in childhood

An open access article in the BMJ Online states that ‘Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been found to have adverse effects on several neurodevelopmental outcomes. However, previous observational studies of the effect of prenatal alcohol exposure on childhood balance ability, an important neurodevelopmental outcome, have failed to reach consensus’. The study investigated the association of prenatal alcohol exposure with balance in10-year-old children.

Participants included 6,915 children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children who had a balance assessment at age 10 and had data on maternal alcohol consumption. 3 composite balance scores were analysed: dynamic balance (beam-walking), static balance eyes open, static balance eyes closed (heel-to-toe balance on a beam and standing on one leg, eyes open or closed).

Most mothers (95.5%) consumed no-to-moderate amounts (3–7 glasses/week) of alcohol during pregnancy. Higher total-alcohol consumption was associated with maternal-social advantage, whereas binge drinking (≥4 units/day) and abstinence were associated with maternal social disadvantage. No evidence was found of an adverse effect of maternal-alcohol consumption on childhood balance. Higher maternal-alcohol use during pregnancy was generally associated with better offspring outcomes, with some specific effects appearing strong (static balance eyes open and moderate total alcohol exposure at 18 weeks, adjusted OR 1.23 (95% CI 1.01 to 1.49); static balance eyes closed and moderate total alcohol exposure at 18 weeks, adjusted OR 1.25 (95% CI 1.06 to 1.48). Similar results were found for both paternal and postnatal maternal alcohol exposure. A Mendelian-randomization approach was used to estimate the association between maternal genotype and offspring balance using the non-synonymous variant rs1229984*A (ADH1B) to proxy for lower maternal alcohol consumption; no strong associations were found between this genotype/proxy and offspring balance.

The authors conclude that no evidence was found to indicate that moderate maternal alcohol consumption in this population sample had an adverse effect on offspring balance at age 10. An apparent beneficial effect of higher total maternal alcohol consumption on offspring balance appeared likely to reflect residual confounding.

Source: Prenatal alcohol exposure and childhood balance ability: findings from a UK birth cohort study. Rachel Humphriss, Amanda Hall, Margaret May, Luisa Zuccolo, John Macleod. BMJ Open 2013;3:e002718 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002718.

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