Damage From Binge-Drinking in Pregnancy Worsens With Age

WEDNESDAY, July 21 (HealthDay News) -- Older women who binge-drink when pregnant are at higher risk for having children with permanent alcohol-related brain damage, new research finds.

Children of pregnant women 30 or older who binge-drink are more likely to suffer greater damage from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), a group of birth defects that includes irreversible physical and mental disorders as well as permanent mental retardation, the study says.

The findings are reported online in advance of print publication in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Our finding that children born to older drinking mothers have more alcohol-related attention deficits than children born to younger drinking women is consistent with prior studies," Lisa M. Chiodo, an assistant professor in the college of nursing at Wayne State University, said in a journal news release.

"Although not conclusive, this finding may be due to older moms drinking for longer periods, greater alcohol tolerance, and having more alcohol-related health problems -- all leading to higher levels of alcohol in their fetuses," Chiodo said. "It has also been suggested that changes in body size, metabolism or composition, or number of births, which are all related to maternal age, may be factors increasing the impact of prenatal alcohol exposure."

The study involved 462 children -- divided equally between boys and girls -- who were born to inner-city women recruited while they were pregnant. The researchers examined binge drinking, smoking, cocaine, marijuana and opiate use during pregnancy.

Tracking the offspring of the women up to the age of 7, the authors conducted performance tests to assess attention skills at the study's conclusion.

The team found that those children born to mothers 30 years or older who engaged in binge drinking while pregnant had more attention deficit issues that those born to the younger mothers. Those born to the older moms were found to make more errors on the completed tests and tended to respond to questions more cautiously and slowly.

Researchers said the findings had implications for prevention efforts and training programs for children damaged by exposure to alcohol in the womb.

The National Women's Health Information Center warns that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and that women who are pregnant should not drink at all.

-- Alan Mozes

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SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, July 20, 2010