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Damage Caused By Pregnancy Drinking

Aug 15, 2005 | Mothers could be permanently damaging their babies by drinking even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy, researchers have warned.

Serious problems such as severe learning disabilities and physical abnormalities can occur when women drink large amounts of alcohol when they are pregnant, leading to foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

But US researchers have said studies now needed to look at the damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol at lower levels.

Julie Croxford, from Wayne State University in Detroit, said: "In the past, much focus was placed on studying the full-blown FAS. More recent research has considered those individuals damaged by lower levels of exposure. This is an important focus."

The latest study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, confirmed that moderate to heavy prenatal alcohol exposure affected youngsters' cognitive function - their thought processes and intellectual function such as memory and problem solving.

The researchers found that youngsters had slower processing speeds and efficiency, particularly when tasks involved memory. The study involved 337 African-American children, aged seven-and-a-half, who were exposed to moderate to heavy levels of alcohol in the womb.

The researchers found that the alcohol-exposed children were able to perform memory, number and other tasks as well as other youngsters when these tasks were simple, such as naming colours in a time period. But when the children were pressed to respond quickly while having to think about the response, their processing speed slowed down significantly.

The Department of Health said: "Current DoH advice is that women who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant should not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol per week.

"This guidance was reviewed as part of the Government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy in March last year and was found to be safe.

"We would be interested to see any further research into this area but current evidence does not justify changing our advice."

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