Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is currently the leading cause of preventable birth defects. It increases the risk of bearing a child with lifelong physical and mental disabilities, and yet many pregnant women continue to drink. Each year, one in 750 infants born in the United States are diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a pattern of physical, developmental, and functional problems, while an additional 40,000 infants show fetal alcohol effects (FAE).
In addition to fetal alcohol syndrome, a recent studysuggests a higher rate of behavioral problems, classified as conduct disorder, in adolescent children whose mothers consumed alcohol during their first trimester of pregnancy. A neurotoxin, alcohol may be more harmful to the development of the fetus than crack cocaine or other drugs. Its ability to easily pass the placental barrier causes high concentration levels in the placenta that the fetus is ill equipped to eliminate.
The present study was conducted on a group of pregnant women and their children from that pregnancy until the children were 16 years old. Data was collected at regular intervals throughout the subjects’ development and factors including home environment, parenting style, mother’s psychology and other pregnancy issues were controlled.
Nearly 36 percent of the children with conduct disorder had mothers who consumed at least one alcoholic beverage per day throughout the first trimester of pregnancy. However, the study also found that adolescents who had stricter parents were less likely to have behavioral problems. Smoking half a pack of cigarettes per day during the first trimester was also linked to conduct disorder.
Overall, the study suggests that alcohol intake during pregnancy should be considered a risk factor for behavioral disorder among adolescents. This, along with the increased risk of mental and physical defects gives reason for women to seriously consider abstaining from alcohol in any amount if they are or could be pregnant.