Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant Can Affect a Child’s Growth

A recent study was carried out examining the effects of alcohol and addictive drug use by pregnant women on their adolescent children. The study conducted on a set of pregnant women was continued for a certain period over the lives of the children. Data was collected at regular intervals on the same set of subjects until the age of 16. A higher rate of behavioral problems called conduct disorder (CD) was observed in adolescent children whose mothers consumed alcohol in the first trimester of pregnancy even after controlling for other factors like home environment, parenting style, mother’s psychology and other pregnancy issues.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy has proved to be harmful for the physical and mental development of the unborn child. Heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause growth deficits and problems in the developing nervous system of the infant. Most pregnant women cut down alcohol intake or stop it completely by mid-pregnancy. This study established in 1982 focused on a long time comparative analysis between two groups: one exposed to light to moderate levels of alcohol and other abusive substances like marijuana during pregnancy and a group that did not use both. Conduct disorder or a pattern of behavioral problems lasting for more than one year and a significantly higher rate was observed among adolescents who were born to mothers that consumed alcohol during pregnancy.

* Trimester specific measures were taken where alcohol or drug intake was assessed in different stretches of the period.
* Quantity of alcohol or drug was monitored in terms of average daily volume or average daily joints respectively.
* Current and lifetime psychiatric disorders among mothers and offspring were noted by scheduling diagnostic interviews.
* Analysis on home environment, involvement of male adult, and parenting practices was also done to understand the controls on behavioral problems.

* The lifetime prevalence of conduct disorder in adolescents from the observed mothers was 11.7 percent. Out of these 5 percent of the adolescents met the criteriafor a current diagnosis of conduct disorder. Nearly 60 percent of the affected patients were male.
* Adolescents were less likely to have conduct disorder if they had stricter parents. Constant changes in the parents’ lives were also more likely to cause conduct disorder. Almost 36 percent of children with conduct disorder had mothers who had at least one drink per day in the first trimester of pregnancy.
* The role of heredity in transferring of conduct disorder from mother to child was found to be not very strong.
* Pregnant mothers who smoked at least half a pack or more during the first trimester of pregnancy were more likely to have children with conduct disorder.

Future research can be helpful to understand the interaction of alcohol consumption during pregnancy with environmental and hereditary factors in affecting the growth of a child. This can lead to a better understandingof the effect of alcohol intake by the mother during pregnancy on the behavioral pattern of an adolescent child. The father’s psychology was not considered during the study and the alcohol/drug consumption was in most cases moderate. Mothers who have an addiction to alcohol may also be addicted to other substances. Also, population specific research can providegreater knowledge about the effect of alcohol on children’s behavior.

This comparative study shows that more than one drink of alcohol per day consumed by a pregnant woman, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy,  increases the chances of behavioral problemsup to three times in the adolescence period.Alcohol intake during pregnancy should be considered a risk factor for behavioral disorder among adolescents. This research also considers other factors that can affect a child’s behavior, like other substance abuse during pregnancy, home environment, parenting styles and the mother’s psychology while raising a child, and finds that even upon controlling for these factors a significant effect of alcohol intake during pregnancy is observed in a child’s behavior while s/he is growing up.

For More Information:
Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Is Associated With Conduct Disorder in Adolescence: Findings From a Birth Cohort
Publication Journal: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, March 2011
By Cynthia A Larkby, PhD; Lidush Goldsmith, PhD; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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