Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may alter the baby’s brain structure, study warns
An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) study has found that drinking alcohol even in moderate to low amounts during pregnancy can change the structure of the baby’s brain and delay its development.
For the study presented Tuesday at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting, researchers analyzed MRI scans of 24 fetuses with prenatal alcohol exposure.
The fetuses were between 22 and 36 weeks’ gestation at the time of the MRI.
Alcohol exposure was determined by anonymous surveys of mothers.
Seventeen of 24 mothers drank alcohol relatively infrequently, with an average alcohol consumption of less than one alcoholic drink per week.
Three mothers drank one to three drinks per week and two mothers drank four to six drinks per week.
One mother consumed an average of 14 or more drinks per week.
Six mothers also reported at least one binge drinking event of more than four drinks on one occasion during pregnancy.
The researchers found that the total fetal maturation score (fTMS) for alcohol-exposed infants was significantly lower than in age-matched controls, while the right superior temporal sulcus (STS) was more superficial.
STS, the researchers explained, is involved in social cognition, audiovisual integration, and language perception.
The researchers said the brain changes were seen in the fetuses even at low levels of alcohol exposure.
“We found the largest changes in the temporal region of the brain and STS. We know that the formation of the STS has a great influence on language development during childhood,” said Gregor Kasprian, lead author of the study.
Although they stated that the long-term effects are still unclear, the researchers said that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can expose the fetus to a group of conditions called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Babies born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, they added, could develop learning disabilities, behavior problems, or speech and language delays.