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Alcohol in pregnancy can damage baby’s brain

Scientists in Australia have warned that drinking just over two drinks a week in very early pregnancy could be enough to stunt a baby’s brain development.

 

According to the result of the study published in the ‘American Journal of Psychiatry’ even if the pregnant mother stopped drinking, the alcohol raised the risk of the affected children suffering later from psychological and behavioural disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

 

The Director of The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, Professor Maree Teesson, who is senior study author, said the safest option during pregnancy was to abstain from any alcohol. Low-level alcohol intake in the study was regarded as one or two drinks per occasion with a maximum of six drinks a week.

 

Many women may not know they are expecting in the first six to seven weeks of pregnancy but having 16 drinks in this time is enough to cause damage, according to the study. However, the study found that exposure to slightly heavier drinking was found to raise the risk of having an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by about 25 per cent.

 

Children, whose mothers had seven or more drinks a week, while expecting, had a 30 per cent higher risk of oppositional defiant disorder and were generally more likely to show aggressive behaviour.

 

The number of drinks women had while pregnant ranged from zero to 90, with 27 the average. Doctoral Student of the University of Sydney, Briana Lees, who is lead author, said: “Our research found even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can have a significant impact on brain development.

 

“Previous research has shown that very heavy alcohol use during pregnancy can cause harm to the baby. “However, this study shows that any alcohol during pregnancy is associated with subtle yet significant behavioural and psychological effects in children including anxiety, depression and poor attention.” Lees added: “Generally, the more a child was exposed to alcohol in utero, the more severe the outcomes.

 

“Children experienced negative effects even if they were only exposed to low levels of alcohol during very early pregnancy and then the mother stopped drinking. The difficulty is many women don’t know they are pregnant at that early stage.”

 

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