Childhood Development

No amount of alcohol in pregnancy is safe: ‘There is too much that is unknown’, warns leading expert 

January 14, 2016

By Lisa Ryan

Read the original article in DailyMail

  • A fetal alcohol syndrome expert warns against pregnant alcohol use
  • There is too much risk – and unknowns – to justify drinking, he says
  • A recent study found fetal alcohol syndrome is more common than thought
  • FAS said to affect 3 out of 1,000 kids – but the study found it was closer to 8

There’s long been debate about the amount of alcohol pregnant women can safely consume.

Some doctors argue pregnant women can enjoy a glass of wine a week.

Others recommend expectant mothers have no more than few sips of wine every now and then.

However, a leading health expert has finally put that debate to bed.

For no amount of alcohol is safe for pregnant women to consume, revealed Dr Phillip May, a professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico (and the UNC Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute  at the NC Research Campus).

He found fetal alcohol syndrome is a lot more prevalent than originally thought.

Dr May said: ‘There is too much that is not known about how alcohol affects each individual woman differently during pregnancy to risk it, especially when we know the lifelong impact it can have on an individual child.’

For the past four decades, Dr May has researched the condition – and is now a leading expert in the field.

He founded the Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions at the university, and now serves as a research professor at University of North Carolina.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) had long been thought to affect no more than three children per every 1,000.

Yet, a study conducted by Dr May found that between three and eight children per 1,000 were born with the condition.

When combined with partial FAS (PFAS), the prevalence of both syndromes ranges from 11 to 25 per 1,000.

Both FAS and PFAS are the most severe diagnoses – on a spectrum of birth defects – caused by maternal drinking during pregnancy, Dr May said.

Children with the conditions are born with abnormal facial features and lifelong learning and behavioral problems, caused by damage to the developing brain and central nervous system.

As a result, these children can also have a host of health issues relating to hearing, vision, the heart, kidneys and bones.

Dr May investigated past studies by a number of universities to determine the higher rates of children with FAS and PFAS.

One of the studies spanned four years, involving 2,300 first grade students in 17 elementary schools.

Those students were examined for height, weight and head circumference.

The children with a head measurement, as well as height and weight, below growth standards were given a dysmorphology exam.

Those diagnosed with FAS or PFAS were given additional cognitive and behavioral tests.

Dr May said: ‘We do these studies of major developmental disabilities in first grade populations because we can more easily identify a number of developmental challenges through the dysmorphology of the physical features, through the cognition and behaviors that they display and the IQ, executive function and memory tests that we give.

‘These disabilities might otherwise go unnoticed or not identified correctly through school years.’

The scientist found most methods only capture 15 to 20 per cent of children with FSAD.

He said: ‘These children are out there in the mainstream populations not performing well, but nobody is sure why.

‘It is important for us to help these study communities understand particular concerns of child development.’

Through his research – and exposure to children with PFAS – the scientist determined that any amount of alcohol is dangerous for pregnant mothers.

Dr May said: ‘There is no safe level of alcohol to consume while you are pregnant.’

The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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