Monday, August 21, 2017

Drinking small amounts while pregnant may affect the baby’s face

June 5 2017
By Jessica Hamzelou

Drinking even small amounts of alcohol when pregnant seems to have subtle effects on how a baby’s face develops – including the shape of their eyes, nose and lips. This isn’t necessarily harmful, though.

“We don’t know if the small changes in the children’s facial shape are connected in any way to differences in their development,” says Jane Halliday of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Victoria, Australia, who led the research. “We plan to look at this as the children grow.”

Heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which is characterised by distinctive facial features, such as small eye openings, a short up-turned nose, and a smooth philtrum over the upper lip. Children with this condition are likely to have attention and behavioural disorders, as well as a lower IQ, says Halliday.


Even low levels of alcohol – such as no more than two drinks on any one occasion, and no more than seven a week – were linked to changes in face shape. However, these changes could be detected only by using the imaging technique, and were not visible to the naked eye.


There is more to learn, adds Chambers. We still don’t know what protects some babies from the harmful effects of alcohol, for example. “Some women will have a quart of vodka a day and have children with no fetal alcohol syndrome,” she says.

Health organisations generally recommend that pregnant women avoid alcohol entirely, but many women drink before realising they are pregnant – which is often a month or two into a pregnancy.

“We don’t know of a safe lower threshold,” says Chambers. “The recommendation to avoid alcohol in pregnancy is a wise one.”

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