Alcohol during pregnancy may alter babies’ facial features, finds study

People clinking cocktail glasses

If you’re wondering if a sneaky tipple now and then during pregnancy could really do any harm, you might want to consider the latest Australian research on how alcohol affects babies’ development.

Just one glass?

We all know that drinking alcohol whilst pregnant is not recommended by those in the know, but new research suggests that even small amounts of booze can have a real, lifelong impact on babies.

A team from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have just released their recent findings on the baby-booze connection. The results are published over on JAMA Pediatrics and you can read them in full here.

The Murdoch team – led by Evelyne Muggli, Harold Matthews and Anthony Penington – looked at photos of over 400 babies’ faces, aiming to pinpoint any changes that might be attributed to maternal alcohol consumption.

What they found was a pattern.  

Facial changes

The researchers discovered that the babies who had been exposed to alcohol in utero were likely to have a more “sunken mid-face” and a turned-up nose. The first three months of pregnancy laid the foundations for this facial development BUT facial changes were seen with alcohol consumption across all trimesters.

“The results of this study suggest that even low levels of alcohol consumption can influence development of the foetus and confirm that the first trimester is a critical period. We observed aspects of a craniofacial phenotype with almost any level of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure, something previously only documented following a high level of long-term alcohol exposure,” the study authors said.

“Any alcohol consumption has consequences on craniofacial development, supporting advice that complete abstinence from alcohol while pregnant is the safest option.”

Sensitivity clue

Interestingly, they noted correlations between how alcohol-affected mothers felt and the facial differences in their babies.

“We observed that children of mothers who reported feeling the effects of alcohol quickly or very quickly exhibited larger craniofacial differences in most exposure groups. We hypothesize that this rate of feeling the effects of alcohol reflects genetically determined variation in alcohol metabolism,” the researchers wrote.

They think this maternal alcohol sensitivity might help them to identify babies that are most at risk of developmental issues in the future.

Just say no

While more research needs to be done to get to the bottom of the team’s findings, this is further confirmation that a teetotal approach is best.

“These findings support the conclusion that, for women who are, or may become pregnant, avoiding alcohol is the safest option,” the team concluded.

So there you have it, another very good reason to avoid alcohol if you are thinking of getting pregnant or are already expecting a baby. Even a little bit of a tipple can have a lasting effect on your bub.


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