Baby’s Facial Development May Be Altered In Utero By A Small Amount Of Alcohol Exposure


A new study conducted by researchers from Australia and Belgium suggests that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The findings reveal that even an occasional drink of alcohol can affect an infant’s facial development.

The research team evaluated the drinking habits of 415 women, who were pregnant and also mapped their children’s facial features at 1 years of age.

They discovered that even a low level of prenatal alcohol exposure subtly impacted the facial features of the baby in utero, including the eyes, chin and nose.


Newborn Facial Features

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, as well as there is no safe time to consume alcohol during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, a 2015 CDC study discovered that about 1 in 10 pregnant women in the U.S. report alcohol consumption with the past 30 days.

Physical and developmental issues in offspring have been contributed to alcohol consumption during pregnancy and include small head size, learning disabilities, low birth weight, hearing or vision problems and intellectual disabilities. Those issues are covered under the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or FASD.

Researchers have been aware of the affect that prenatal alcohol exposure has on baby’s facial development for a very long now. However, the amount of alcohol intake that leads to facial development is still unclear.

The research team focused their study on how varying levels of alcohol intake during pregnancy affects facial development of offspring.

Data from a longitudinal cohort study, AQUA, was utilized for this new study. The data of 1,600 women who were pregnant was examined to determine how different levels of alcohol intake affected the fetus in utero.

During the Asking Questions about Alcohol in Pregnancy study, the women were given a questionnaire, which detailed quantity and frequency of alcohol intake during the three months before pregnancy and each during each trimester.

A total of 415 children born to women, who participated in the AQUA study were part of the new study.

The alcohol intake was divided into three different categories: over 50 grams of alcohol per drinking occasion was categorized as high intake; less than 70 grams of alcohol weekly and 21-49 grams of alcohol per occasion was categorized a moderate intake; and less than 70 grams of alcohol per week and 20 grams of alcohol per occasion was categorized as low intake.

“When the children reached 1 year of age, they underwent facial imaging. According to co-lead author of the study Harry Matthews, University of Melbourne in Australia. To study the facial development of the children, the researchers utilized a “sophisticated 3-D facial analysis technique, mapping something like 7,000 individual dot points on the face.”

The researchers recommend pregnant women to avoid alcohol, because even low intake can alter the formation of facial features of fetuses in utero.

The authors note that the alterations could not be detected by the naked eye, as they measured less than 2 millimeters. However, 3D imaging could detect even the tiniest alteration to the lips, eyes and nose.

The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on June 5, 2017.

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