New research from the University of Sydney finds that even low levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can have an impact on a child’s brain development and is associated with greater psychological and behavioral problems in youth including anxiety, depression and poor attention.
Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the study was led by the University’s Matilda Center for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use.
The impact of low-level alcohol use during pregnancy on child development is relatively unknown and there has been extensive debate about whether there is a safe level of consumption.
The researchers investigated whether any alcohol consumption in pregnancy was related to psychological, behavioral, neural and cognitive differences in children aged nine to ten years. With a sample of 9,719 youth, this is the largest study to investigate the impacts of low-level alcohol use during pregnancy. Low levels of drinking were considered one to two drinks per occasion with maximum of six drinks per week.
“Our research found that even small amounts of alcohol consumed while pregnant can have a significant impact on a child’s brain development,” said lead author Ms Briana Lees, Ph.D. candidate at the Matilda Center.
“Previous research has shown that very heavy alcohol use, such as binge drinking, during pregnancy can cause harm to the baby. However, this study shows that any alcohol use during pregnancy, even low levels, is associated with subtle, yet significant behavioral and psychological effects in children including anxiety, depression and poor attention. This study is so important because in Australia, around 50 percent of women drink alcohol before they know they are pregnant, and 25 percent do so after they know. The vast majority consume one or two standard drinks per occasion which this study shows is enough to impact the baby’s brain.”
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