Drinking alcohol is totally contraindicated in pregnant women because it can affect the development of the fetus and have consequences as serious for the future baby as the fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes various physical and mental health problems. However, there are those who do it sporadically, thinking that it does not have so many implications. Now, a new study has gone further and revealed that the alcohol use before and during pregnancy is associated with the alteration of the shape of the child’s faceeven when the mother took less than 12 g per week, which is equivalent to a small glass of vino de 175 ml oa 330 ml de beer.
Researchers have found an association between alterations in the shape of children’s faces and the amount of alcohol that their mothers drank both before and during pregnancy. It is the first study to find this type of relationship in children whose mothers consumed alcohol up to three months before pregnancy, but stopped when they became pregnant. Their findings have been published in Human Reproduction.
The shape of babies’ faces can be a sign of future health problems and development. Gennady Roshchupkin, assistant professor and group leader of computational population biology at the Erasmus Medical Center (Rotterdam, The Netherlands), who led the study, states: “I would call the face a ‘mirror of health,’ as reflects the overall health of a child. Exposure of a child to alcohol before birth can have significant adverse effects on its developmental health, and if a mother regularly drinks a large amount, this can lead to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which is reflected in the children’s faces.
Babies born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) suffer from growth retardation, neurological impairment, and characteristic abnormal facial development, and symptoms such as cognitive impairment, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). ), learning, memory, and behavior problems, and speech and language delays.
Association between alcohol exposure and child’s facial shape
It was already known that excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause this syndrome in the baby, but new research has focused on the effects of ingesting small amounts of this drink before and during pregnancy in children of different ethnic origins. , using an algorithm based on AI and deep learning to study three-dimensional images of children obtained when they were nine years old (3,149) and 13 years old (2,477), who had participated in the Generation R Study in the Netherlands, a population-based study of pregnant women and their children from fetal life onwards. The children who were analyzed were born between April 2009 and January 2006.
“There is no established safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and it is advisable to stop drinking alcohol even before conception to ensure optimal health outcomes for mother and fetus”
The mothers completed questionnaires where they reported their alcohol intake at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the pregnancy. The researchers classified them into three groups: mothers who did not drink before or during pregnancy (control group), mothers who drank during the three months before conception but stopped when they became pregnant, and mothers who drank during pregnancy. , (here included both those who only drank during the first trimester of pregnancy, and those who continued to drink throughout the pregnancy).
“We found a statistically significant association between prenatal alcohol exposure and face shape in nine-year-olds. The more alcohol the mothers drank, the more statistically significant changes there were. The most common features were an upturned nose tip, shortened nose tip, outward chin, and inward lower eyelid,” says Xianjing Liu, first author of the study.
“Among the group of mothers who drank during pregnancy, we found that even if mothers drank very little during pregnancy, less than 12 g per week, the association between alcohol exposure and children’s facial shape could be observed. This is the first time that an association has been observed at such low levels of alcohol consumption,” she adds.
The researchers noted, however, that the link between alcohol consumption and face shape weakened in older children and found no significant association when they analyzed data for children at age 13. In Roshchupkin’s opinion, it could be because as the child grows, other environmental factors influence him and the changes in the face may diminish or fade through the process of normal development, which does not mean that the effect of alcohol on his health disappears. .
“Therefore, it is crucial to emphasize that there is no established safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and it is advisable to stop drinking alcohol even before conception to ensure optimal health outcomes for both the mother and the developing fetus. ”, states Professor Roshchupkin. “Further research on the association mechanism is needed to fully understand how the association develops and then weakens with age.”
They found similar results when analyzing data from mothers who drank during the first trimester but then quit, and those who continued to drink, suggesting that the associations were mainly explained by exposure of the fetus to alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy. As explained by the researchers, previous studies on child development after prenatal alcohol exposure attribute its relationship with the shape of the face to possible metabolic disorders in mothers, such as high blood sugar levels and fatty liver disease. However, more research is needed as their study is observational and cannot prove cause and effect, and the women might have underestimated their alcohol consumption when answering the questionnaires.
Professor Matt Sydes, Professor of Clinical Trials and Methodology at UCL (University College London), who was not involved in the study, has raised some objections to it in statements to SMC Science Media Centre: “Although the study was approved by the ethics committee, it would be good to see how the ethnic categories were selected and whether they fit well and whether we are talking about morphological changes that would be considered significant among people of each of these cultural backgrounds within The Netherlands and more broadly.”
“A key limitation is likely recall bias in reporting levels of alcohol consumption, or even deliberate misreporting. Self-reported alcohol use is perhaps unreliable, and this may be more pronounced in a group that is repeatedly told not to drink.”