More Evidence that Pregnant Women Should Avoid Alcohol

Posted on January 1st, 2012
Posted in Substance Abuse

Women have long been warned about the potential dangers of drinking while they’re pregnant. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one of the most severe potential outcomes of prenatal alcohol use. It may include serious problems for the unborn child including mental retardation, problems with vision or hearing, physical deformities, heart defects, and a behavioral issues [1]. This risk has caused many women to forgo alcohol during their pregnancy, or get into an addiction treatment program if they’re unable to stop on their own.

Unfortunately, the warnings regarding alcohol use and pregnancy have often been inconsistent. Some experts have indicated that moderate alcohol intake during pregnancy is relatively harmless to the fetus, while others have strongly advocated total abstinence. Needless to say, this confusing information has given some women license to "drink only in moderation" while their unborn child is developing in their womb.

Reason for Caution

If you’re thinking about getting pregnant or are currently pregnant, you might want to heed the advice of the total abstinence advocates. This is because recent research has shown that even moderate amounts of alcohol (defined as 1 to 6 drinks per week) during your pregnancy can lower your child’s IQ.

A recent study conducted by researchers at two UK Universities – the University of Oxford and the University of Bristol – tested the IQs of children born to the over 4,000 women who participated in the study [2] [3]. The children were tested at 8 years of age, using a form of the highly standardized Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children.

The prenatal drinking habits of the participants were obtained via questionnaires given at weeks 18 and 32 during their pregnancy. The women were asked various questions about their alcohol intake. The women whose responses indicated an alcohol binge at any point were excluded from the study, as the focus was on the effects of moderate intake (versus abstinence) only.

A child’s intellectual development can be impacted by a variety of factors in addition to alcohol use, such as the mother’s diet, whether or not she smoked, her age at the time of pregnancy, and even her socioeconomic status and level of education. In order to exclude the impact of these other factors, the researchers look specifically at genetic variations in the children’s DNA. More specifically, they analyzed variations in certain genes the play a role in alcohol metabolization.

What they found should make any mother think twice about drinking any alcohol while pregnant. For each genetic variation in the child’s genes, the IQ score was an average of 2 points lower. In other words, the more genetic variances, the lower the child’s IQ. These effects were not found in the children of mothers who did not drink during their pregnancy, thus directly linking them to moderate alcohol intake.

Consider your Child’s Future

Since IQ can directly impact a child’s ability to learn, process information, and solve complex problems, it plays an important role in their future success in life. Children who struggle in school or have difficulties learning are more likely to drop out of school and have self-esteem issues [4] [5]. These can both lead to other problems in life.

Granted, there is more to success than one’s intellectual ability. But it’s important to give your child every advantage possible from the moment he or she is conceived. While many other factors certainly affect IQ, it’s important to avoid doing things (like using alcohol during pregnancy) that could negatively impact your child’s intellectual development.

If you don’t feel you can abstain from alcohol during your pregnancy, you may be more dependent on alcohol than you realized. This doesn’t make you a weak or undisciplined person; rather, you may have a serious disorder that requires addiction treatment.

Talk to your ob-gyn, a therapist, or your regular doctor about your alcohol use if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant. He or she can refer you to an alcohol addiction counselor or treatment program for an assessment if warranted. While a serious problem may require residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment, many people who struggle with alcohol abuse can benefit significantly from outpatient alcohol treatment combined with 12-step programs or other types of support groups.

Make your child’s future – as well as your own current and future health and well-being – a high priority today. That seemingly harmless cocktail or glass of wine during your pregnancy may provide temporary pleasure, but lead to regrets down the road – for both you and your child.

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