Fertility and pregnancy

Alcohol in pregnancy linked to child behaviour problems

Depression and anxiety reported

Drinking during pregnancy may increase the risk of a child developing behavioural problems in later life, new research has found.

The type of behavioural problem is influenced by the amount of alcohol and at the stage of pregnancy in which it is consumed, scientists said.

In the study, 2000 Australian mothers were asked to complete a questionnaire three months after their baby was born. Theses were then followed up when the child was 2, 5 and 8 years old.

“Mothers who reported what we would classify as heavy drinking in the first trimester of pregnancy were nearly three times as likely to report that their child suffered with anxiety and/or depression or somatic complaints,” said lead author Colleen O'Leary from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth.

“Those who drank moderately during that first trimester were twice as likely to report those types of behavioural issues for their child.

“Exposure to moderate or heavy levels of alcohol in late pregnancy increased the risk of aggressive types of behaviours in the child.

“Those who drank moderately during that first trimester were twice as likely to report those types of behavioural issues for their child," Ms O'Leary said.

The risk of harm to the baby increased with increasing amounts of alcohol drunk. Low levels of alcohol were not found to raise the risk of harm to the baby.

For the study, a heavy drinker was a woman drinking the equivalent of more than a bottle of wine a week.

Ms O'Leary emphasised that women who have drunk alcohol during pregnancy should not be panicked by the results of her research.

“Not every smoker gets lung cancer despite them being at higher risk - and in this case, not every child will be affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol.

"However, it is important that women have this information about increased risk so that they can make informed decisions to give their child the best start to life,” she added.

Ms O'Leary said 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.

The study is published online this month in the journal Addiction.

This article was published on Fri 27 November 2009



Image © Anatoly Tiplyashin - Fotolia.com


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