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Drinking during pregnancy affects your baby’s facial development

Drinking during pregnancy

For years, we have known that drinking alcohol during pregnancy is dangerous, yet new research by Murdoch Childrens Research Institute suggests even low-level drinking during pregnancy can affect your baby’s facial development.

The researchers recruited 1570 mothers in their first trimester of pregnancy between January 2011 and December 2014. The mothers were asked about their drinking habits before and throughout their pregnancies.

At 12 months old, 415 children had 3D photographs of their faces taken from different angles. These children included those who had been exposed to low, moderate or binge-drinking levels of alcohol when in the womb. When analysing the images, researchers found significantly differences in the facial shapes of children whose mothers didn’t drink any alcohol during their pregnancy, compared to those who were exposed to even small amounts.

The differences were mainly concentrated around the nose, lips and eyes.

Out of the 195 girls and 220 boys scanned, those who had been exposed to low levels of alcohol in the first trimester showed differences in their forehead size. Those whose mothers had consumed a moderate amount of alcohol showed differences in their eyes, chin and head. And those babies who had been exposed to binge-drinking had different shaped chins.

The researchers emphasised that these differences were subtle, and not visible to the naked eye. Their findings also raise questions about the impact upon brain development in babies exposed to alcohol during pregnancy and this will be studied in on-going research.

One of the study’s lead authors, Evi Muggli stated: ‘We know that alcohol use in pregnancy contributes to how the face is formed in the womb. We found when analysing the detailed images in our study, that any alcohol in pregnancy, even low amounts, can subtly influence facial development.’

Although the NHS recommends expert opinion varies when it comes down to alcohol consumption in pregnancy, The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend ‘if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

‘Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink, the greater the risk.’ 

 
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