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Key Findings: The effects of alcohol use during pregnancy and later developmental outcomes: An analysis of previous studies

The journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research has published a meta-analysis of multiple studies examining how drinking patterns of women during pregnancy (such as low-to-moderate alcohol use or binge drinking*) can affect the development of their children. This topic is an area of public health concern, particularly due to contradicting media reports. The results of this review highlight the importance of avoiding alcohol use, especially binge drinking, during pregnancy. It provides evidence that there is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. You can read the article’s summary here.

Main Findings from this Study

  • Based on eight studies that included over 10,000 children aged 6 months to 14 years, the authors found that any binge drinking during pregnancy was associated with the child having problems with cognition.
  • Based on three high-quality studies of approximately 11,900 children aged 9 months to 5 years, the authors found that moderate drinking during pregnancy was associated with the child having behavior problems.
  • The authors found no significant impact of alcohol use during pregnancy on other outcomes of child development that were studied, such as academic performance or language development.
  • Findings of this meta-analysis support previous findings suggesting harmful effects of binge drinking during pregnancy on child cognition.
  • Drinking alcohol during pregnancy at low levels (less than daily drinking) might increase the chance of child behavior problems.

About this Study

Basics About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

  • Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause birth defects and developmental disabilities collectively known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). It can also cause other pregnancy problems, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and prematurity.
  • There is no guaranteed safe level of alcohol use at any time during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. All kinds of alcohol should be avoided, including red or white wine, beer, and liquor.
  • Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, including before a woman knows she is pregnant.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are completely preventable if a woman doesn’t drink during pregnancy. Why take the risk?

Researchers collected and analyzed information from previous studies to look at whether low-to-moderate alcohol use or binge drinking by women during pregnancy could affect the later development of their children. This is the first meta-analysis of studies of low-to-moderate alcohol use or binge drinking during pregnancy and later cognitive outcomes.

More Information

To learn more about alcohol use during pregnancy, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html.

For more information about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and CDC’s activities in this area, please visit www.cdc.gov/fasd.

Paper Reference

Flak AL, Su S, Bertrand J, Denny CH, Kesmodel US, Cogswell ME. The association of mild, moderate, and binge prenatal alcohol exposure and child neuropsychological outcomes: A meta-analysis. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2013; [epub ahead of date].

Preventing Alcohol Use During Pregnancy and FASDs: CDC Activities

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been involved in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)-related activities since 1991, which have enabled the prevention, identification, and treatment of FASDs. Key activities include:

  • Monitoring alcohol consumption among women of reproductive age
  • Tracking fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in three geographic areas
  • Supporting implementation, adoption, and promotion of alcohol screening and brief intervention within primary care systems
  • Developing and promoting effective interventions for children, adolescents, and young adults living with FASDs and their families
  • Enhancing health care provider education on the prevention, identification, and treatment of FASDs
  • Offering FASD-related educational information and materials for women of reproductive age, health care providers, and the general public

*For the purposes of this review, levels of alcohol use were defined as follows: mild – up to three drinks per week, mild-to-moderate – up to six drinks per week, moderate – up to six drinks per week including some individuals who consumed three or more drinks per week, heavy – more than six drinks per week, and binge – four or more drinks on one occasion. One drink was defined as 13.7 grams of alcohol.

A meta-analysis is a focused search of previous studies. Researchers then put these study findings together to understand more about the particular topic.
Thinking and memory skills that can be measured through puzzles, games, and age-appropriate tasks.
Examples of behavior problems include not following classroom directions, unwillingness to share, and inability to be patient when waiting for attention from adults.
Related to thinking and memory.
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