Moderate Alcohol Use During Pregnancy May Affect Babies’ Prenatal Development, UNM Study Finds

by Ella

A recent study led by researchers at the University of New Mexico suggests that even low to moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy may influence subtle changes in prenatal development, potentially impacting birth length and gestational duration of babies.


Published in the journal Alcohol Clinical & Experimental Research, the study, spearheaded by Ludmila Bakhireva, MD, PhD, MPH, professor and assistant dean for Clinical and Translational Research in the UNM College of Pharmacy, sheds light on the nuanced effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, with some distinctions noted between male and female infants.


Dr. Bakhireva emphasized that while the findings hint at sex-related differences in the impact of maternal drinking, caution must be exercised due to the study’s limited statistical power and the complexity of accounting for various contributing factors.


The research draws from three prospective studies spanning a decade, tracking 281 participants, predominantly recruited during the second trimester of pregnancy. Despite prior focus on heavy alcohol use’s prenatal effects, Bakhireva underscored the importance of examining moderate alcohol exposure due to its prevalence.


Highlighting the criticality of early pregnancy for fetal organ development, Bakhireva stressed the need for heightened awareness of alcohol’s risks, especially given the common occurrence of drinking before pregnancy recognition.

While most participants reduced or ceased alcohol intake upon pregnancy confirmation, deficits were still observed in infants, irrespective of gender, suggesting potential developmental impacts.

Moving forward, Bakhireva advocates for larger, multi-site studies to corroborate findings and delve deeper into sex-specific effects. She leads the HEALthy Brain and Child Development study at UNM, aiming to recruit 7,500 parent-child pairs for long-term monitoring.

Echoing recommendations from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bakhireva emphasized the imperative of abstinence during pregnancy to optimize child health and developmental outcomes, underlining the significance of destigmatizing discussions around alcohol use in pregnancy.

In conclusion, the study underscores the importance of vigilant monitoring and awareness surrounding alcohol consumption during pregnancy, offering insights into potential developmental ramifications and advocating for informed decision-making to safeguard maternal and fetal health.


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