Moderate Drinking and Birth Abnormalities

pregnant mother

Researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM) have found that even low to moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy can impact prenatal development.

Study Overview and Lead Researcher

The study, published in Alcohol Clinical & Experimental Research, was led by Dr. Ludmila Bakhireva, MD, PhD, MPH, professor and assistant dean for Clinical and Translational Research in the UNM College of Pharmacy. The research revealed sex-specific variations in the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure.

Sex-Specific Impacts of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

The research team found that the impact on gestational age was more pronounced in male infants, while the effect on birth length was more substantial in females.  

Study Methodology

The study drew data from three prospective studies conducted at UNM over a decade, involving 281 participants. Most were recruited during their second trimester and followed throughout their pregnancies and beyond.

Focus on Moderate Alcohol Exposure

While much is known about the effects of heavy alcohol use during pregnancy—defined as 14 drinks per week or binge drinking of four or more drinks per occasion—the UNM team focused their study on the impacts of more common moderate alcohol exposure.

Early Pregnancy: A Critical Period

Early pregnancy is a critical period for fetal organ formation, making it a particularly vulnerable time for alcohol exposure. Given that many women drink before realizing they’re pregnant, this study examined drinking patterns around conception and early pregnancy.

Observations Despite Reduced Alcohol Consumption

Most participants significantly reduced or stopped drinking after learning they were pregnant, yet deficits in both male and female infants were still observed.

Call for Further Research

The research team emphasizes the need for more extensive, nationwide studies to replicate these findings and explore sex-specific effects further.

The study supports the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s message that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

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