While consuming alcohol at all when pregnant can be harmful to a fetus, the risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome is greatest between the seventh and 12th weeks of pregnancy, according to a study released Tuesday by UC San Diego.
The study, to be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research in April, involved 992 women who called the California Teratogen Information Service Pregnancy Health Information Line between 1978 and 2005 and agreed to participate in research on the health of their babies.
Research showed that drinking during pregnancy increased the risk of having an underweight newborn or a baby with a shorter length at birth, according to the study's authors.
Deformities associated with fetal alcohol syndrome include small head, small upper jaw, smooth and thin upper lip and small, narrow eyes.
When women consumed alcohol between the seventh and 12th weeks of their pregnancies, the risk of problems with their newborn's lips increased by 25 percent per drink, the chance of a shorter length of the baby climbed 18 percent, the possibility of reduced birth weight rose 16 percent, and the chance of having a smaller head size went up 12 percent, according to the study.
"These findings show that drinking alcohol between week seven and 12 of pregnancy are clearly associated with a risk for (fetal alcohol syndrome) facial features, as well as a decrease in birth weight and length," said Christina Chambers, a professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego and CTIS program director.
Chambers said the results do not mean it is safe to drink in the first seven weeks of pregnancy, since the study only looked at live births and does not include miscarriages or stillbirths caused by alcohol exposure.
"If anything, this further supports the idea that there is no designated safe period for drinking alcohol in pregnancy, and that discontinuing alcohol consumption as soon as possible, and, ideally, prior to pregnancy is the best approach to preventing FAS," Chambers said.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, children with FAS could face brain developmental problems that affect coordination, movement, thinking, speech and social skills. There is also a risk of have heart defects.
-City News Service