When it comes to drinking alcohol during pregnancy and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, is it all in the timing?
Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson may have been spotted having a drink or two during their pregnancies, it's rumored. But is there really ever such a thing as safe alcohol consumption when you are a mom-to-be? That's part of the question researchers from the University of California, San Diego, set out to find the answer to in a study that looked at the timing of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and certain characteristics of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).
FAS refers to the developmental problems that can occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy. Signs of FAS are often difficult to recognize in newborns, but red flags may include such physical features as reduced birth weight and length, a smooth upper lip with thin/smooth red portion of the lip, short eye openings, and a smaller head size.
In the UC San Diego study, counselors at a California pregnancy information hotline identified 992 women who had called in with questions about alcohol exposure and who agreed to have their babies undergo a follow-up exam after birth. Counselors asked women to state how far along in their pregnancies they were when they called in to report drinking alcohol.
Their findings? Moms with a higher alcohol consumption at any point during pregnancy were more likely to have a baby with a low birth weight or reduced birth length compared to tee-totaling moms. However, women who called the hotline to report excessive drinking when they were in the second half of the first trimester appeared to put their babies at highest risk for those tell-tale facial features of FAS, in addition to the same problems with lower birth weights and smaller lengths.
"For every one drink increase in the average number of drinks consumed daily [in the second half of the first trimester], there was a 25 percent increased risk for smooth upper lip, a 22 percent increased risk for thin red portion of the upper lip border, a 12 percent increased risk for small head size, a 16 percent increased risk for reduced birth weight, and an 18 percent increased risk for reduced birth length," says Dr. Haruna Sawada Feldman, post-doctoral student and lead author of the study.
Your BabyReading between the lines, does this study actually prove that drinking before the 7th week of pregnancy—or after the 12th week—is really no big deal? No way, says researchers, who point out that their study only looked at, "...data that included live births. It does not include women who had miscarriages ... possibly resulting from early alcohol exposure."
As Dr. Feldman explains, "If anything, this further supports the idea that there is no designated 'safe' period for drinking alcohol in pregnancy, and that discontinuing alcohol consumption as soon as possible, and, ideally, prior to pregnancy is the best approach to preventing FAS."
In other words, save that champagne until after your delivery, Mama. Your baby will thank you.