Study Finds Even Small Amounts of Alcohol During Pregnancy Can Affect Fetal Brain Development

New study finds even small alcohol consumption during pregnancy can impact fetal brain development and child IQ, challenging previous beliefs. Experts now recommend complete abstinence from alcohol for expectant mothers.

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Sakchi Khandelwal
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Study Finds Even Small Amounts of Alcohol During Pregnancy Can Affect Fetal Brain Development

Study Finds Even Small Amounts of Alcohol During Pregnancy Can Affect Fetal Brain Development

A new study by Professor Peter Hepper at Queen's University Belfast has found that even small amounts of alcohol consumed during pregnancy can have an impact on fetal brain development and IQ in children. The research, conducted in 2024, involved scanning 40 pregnant women, half of whom drank 1-4 units of alcohol per week.

The results showed a striking difference in the development of the fetuses' "startle reflex," an early movement that typically disappears by 18-20 weeks in non-drinking mothers. However, in the fetuses of women who drank alcohol, even in small amounts, this reflex was still present at 35 weeks. Professor Hepper stated, "This suggests that the alcohol is affecting the way the child's brain develops, even at this very early stage."

Why this matters: The findings challenge the previous belief that light drinking during pregnancy is safe, and emphasize the importance of abstaining from alcohol entirely while pregnant. The potential impact on child development and IQ has far-reaching implications for public health and education.

To further investigate the long-term effects, Professor Hepper plans to follow the children involved in the study for the next 3-5 years. Experts now recommend that the only safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is none at all, as even small amounts have been linked to a reduction in a child's IQ by up to 4 points.

The study's findings serve as a critical reminder for expectant mothers and healthcare providers alike. As Professor Hepper noted, "The advice that light drinking is safe during pregnancy is now considered misleading. The only safe alcohol level during pregnancy is none at all." The research highlights the importance of prioritizing fetal health and development throughout pregnancy.

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol during pregnancy affects fetal brain development and IQ.
  • Fetuses of drinking mothers showed delayed disappearance of startle reflex.
  • Previous belief that light drinking is safe is now considered misleading.
  • Experts recommend no alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
  • Long-term study to further investigate the effects is planned.