Page last updated: Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Timing of heavy alcohol consumption in pregnancy has different effects on child behaviour problems
A new study from Perth’s Telethon Institute for Child Health Research has found evidence that the amount and timing of alcohol consumption in pregnancy affects child behaviour in different ways.

The analysis, led by Colleen O’Leary, was drawn from a random sample of more than 2,000 mothers who completed a questionnaire three months after the baby’s delivery, and were then followed up when the child was 2, 5 and 8 years of age.

In this study low levels of alcohol did not increase the risk of harm to the baby. However, the evidence clearly shows that the risk to the baby increases with increasing amounts consumed.

Those who drank 3–4 standard drinks (14g) per occasion during that first trimester were twice as likely to report those types of behavioural issues for their child. Exposure to these levels of alcohol in late pregnancy increased the risk of aggressive types of behaviours in the child.

The authors conclude that both the timing and the intensity of alcohol exposure in the womb affect the type of behaviour problems expressed. Moderate heavy exposure was classified as drinking 3-4 standard drinks per occasion- that’s about two normal glasses of wine-and no more than a bottle of wine drunk over a week. Heavy drinking included women who were drinking the equivalent of more than a bottle of wine per week.

O’Leary stated that it is important that women who had consumed alcohol while pregnant are not panicked by the findings, but suggested that health professionals can assist by talking to women of child bearing age about their alcohol consumption and encouraging pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy to abstain from alcohol.

Source: O’Leary, Nassar, Zubrick, Kurinczuk, Stanley and Bower, Evidence of a complex association between dose, pattern and timing of prenatal alcohol exposure and child behaviour problems. The study is published online in the international journal Addiction.

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