“Mothers who drink in early pregnancy are ‘more likely to have unruly children’,” reported the Daily Mail. The newspaper says that a study has found a three-fold risk of antisocial behaviour among 16 year olds whose mothers drank as little as one alcoholic drink per day during early pregnancy.
The US study assessed the possible association between drinking during the first trimester of pregnancy and the risk of a psychiatric condition known as ‘conduct disorder’ in adolescents up to 16 years of age. The disorder can lead to a persistent, marked pattern of repetitive antisocial behaviour that is beyond simply being unruly.
Although the study found an association between conduct disorder and maternal pregnancy, it should be remembered that it is a relatively uncommon condition, and that only 67 adolescents (about 12% of the study population) had experienced it. Therefore further research is needed to reliably assess the influence of prenatal alcohol exposure on the risk of developing the condition.
Current advice is that women trying to conceive and pregnant women, particularly those in the first three months of pregnancy, should refrain from consuming alcohol altogether.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from The University of Pittsburgh. It was funded by grants from the US National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism and the US National Institute of Drug Abuse.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Academy Child Adolescent Psychiatry.
This research was covered by the Daily Mail, which reported that alcohol consumption during pregnancy was associated with “unruly behaviour”. It should be emphasised that Conduct Disorder is a specific psychiatric condition diagnosed by a persistent, marked pattern of repetitive antisocial behaviour. It is not clear from this study how alcohol consumption during pregnancy affects minor or short-term symptoms of unruly behaviour.
What kind of research was this?
This was a prospective cohort study, which investigated whether a mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of their child having conduct disorder.
What did the research involve?
The researchers used data from two longitudinal studies which had looked at the effects of substance exposure during pregnancy. One had focused on alcohol consumption and one had focused on marijuana use. But as their study designs were identical, the researchers combined the data. In total, these studies provided data on 829 women who had been recruited from antenatal clinics. The study began in 1982.
The researchers recorded data on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption over the three pregnancy trimesters. The researchers had also collected data on drug and tobacco use.
From the original cohort the researchers were able to gather data on 763 live singleton births (some of the mothers moved from the area or did not participate in follow-up). The children were followed from birth for 22 years. At the age of 16 years, 572 of them completed a psychiatric interview to assess psychiatric disorders, both current and during their lifetime. The mothers and adolescents were interviewed separately about their own symptoms. The researchers focused on whether the adolescents had conduct disorder, a psychiatric condition that may cause people to be repeatedly aggressive or destructive and to behave outside of social norms.
Additionally, the children and mothers were assessed at birth, and at the ages of 8 months, 18 months, and 3, 6, 10 and 14 years. During these visits various aspects of the children’s home life was assessed, such as whether their biological father or another male adult was involved in their life; how strict they thought their parenting was, whether they regularly ate meals with their family, participated in family activities and performed chores. They were also asked about their participation in sports, their interests and their hobbies.
The researchers also recorded whether the children had experienced a number of specific positive and negative life events, as well as data on the families’ socioeconomic status, the mother’s marital status, the child’s IQ and education.
The researchers restricted their analysis to the reported volume of alcohol drunk during the first three and last three months of pregnancy.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers said that “prenatal alcohol exposure above the level of one drink per day predicts a three-fold increase in the rate of conduct disorder in exposed offspring at 16 years of age”. They say that prenatal alcohol exposure should be considered as another risk factor for conduct disorder.
While this study has demonstrated an increased risk of conduct disorder with drinking one or more alcoholic drinks per day in the first trimester, there are several limitations to this study that should be taken into account when interpreting these results.
This study benefited from a long follow-up of children whose mothers had consumed alcohol during pregnancy. But owing to the small size of the study, further research is needed to assess how drinking alcohol during pregnancy is associated with conduct disorder. Regardless, it is recommended that women avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy for a number of other health reasons.
Article: 22nd March 2011 www.nhs.uk source: www.dailymail.co.uk
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