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New study to examine the safety of alcohol during pregnancy

Research News
Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 9:00am
The jury is still out on the damaging effects of low to moderate alcohol use in pregnancy and is there is a particular stage where the developing baby is most at risk.

For the 50 per cent of women who have an unplanned pregnancy, that big night they had before knowing they were pregnant can cause a lot of anxiety. 

Researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute are seeking answers to this question through a study called AQUA, Asking Questions About Alcohol in Pregnancy.

“It is well recognised that high levels of alcohol exposure during pregnancy can harm the developing baby, but there is conflicting evidence from research about the timing as well as the effects of low to moderate levels of alcohol. Therefore, avoiding alcohol entirely is the best option,” says the study’s chief investigator, Professor Jane Halliday.

The major concern around an abstinence message is that alcohol may have been consumed by the mother before she becomes aware that she is pregnant. Women will worry about the potential harm done to their unborn child and some may experience considerable anxiety associated with unintended exposure to alcohol and the uncertainty about how this will affect their child.

Researchers have surveyed almost 1,600 pregnant women in Victoria to assess the impact of different amounts of alcohol on the unborn child.

Using three questionnaires, one in each trimester of pregnancy, women were asked about their alcohol consumption before falling pregnant, before they knew they were pregnant, and in each trimester.

They were also asked about their general wellbeing, obstetric history, their past drinking habits, and the drinking habits of their partners and families. 

The researchers also collected information on factors that might influence the effects of alcohol in pregnancy such as the mother’s ability to metabolise alcohol, her diet, smoking, folate use, medication and body size.

The same mothers were then surveyed about the health and development of their one-year old baby and are currently being followed up again as the children turn two years of age.

It is hoped the results will shed light on whether low or moderate drinking during pregnancy has a detrimental effect on babies’ health and development and if so, whether the timing of the exposure is important.

The results could help inform women planning pregnancies, those who are currently pregnant and their doctors and midwives.

Find out more about the AQUA study