A new study released this month by researchers at Queens University in Belfast, Ireland has shown a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and fetal development.
The tests were on women 25 weeks into their pregnancy. At that stage, most babies jump as if startled when a buzzer is sounded on their mother's abdomen -- a response which indicates the brain and central nervous system are functioning properly.
However, researchers have found that even among women drinking four units of alcohol a week, significantly fewer babies passed the "startle test" than those whose mothers drank nothing at all.
Congenital Birth DefectsIf alcohol consumption effects the development of the brain and central nervous system, it can also effect the unborn child's development of physical features and organs, scientists say.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is characterized by a number of congenital birth defects which include prenatal and postnatal growth deficiency, facial malformations, central nervous system dysfunction, and varying degrees of major organ system malfunctions -- including the heart and heart valves.
Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) are characterized by milder or less frequent signs of FAS. The harmful effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol range from full-blown FAS to mild FAE.
Not all women who drink alcohol during pregnancy have babies with FAS or FAE. Variables affecting outcome include genetics, cigarette smoking and other drug use, nutrition, and time of use during pregnancy.
Be On the Safe SideBut therein lies the problem. No research has been able to determine exactly how much alcohol consumption -- or how little -- will effect prenatal development.
British Government guidelines previously recommended no more than four drinks a week for pregnant women, but after the Belfast study was released, researchers were recommending that the guidelines be changed to recommend no drinking at all.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of babies born with health problems caused by fetal alcohol syndrome increased sixfold from 1979 to 1993. A total of 2,032 cases were reported among the 9.4 million births over the 15 year period.
Many of the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are irreversible and can cause a lifetime of suffering for the victims. To be on the safe side, if you are pregnant, don't drink.