Early Pregnancy Drinking May Harm Baby

Women in early pregnancy, and even those who are considering becoming pregnant, should cut out cocktails, wine and beer completely, according to the results of a preliminary study on animals.

Researchers found that one or two drinks a day, even during early pregnancy, may be just as damaging to neurobehavioral development of infants as exposing them to drinking throughout the pregnancy or during its late stages.

And because alcohol can have an impact even before the pregnancy is detected, scientists suggest women who are trying to get pregnant stop drinking.

Drinking Moms, Inattentive Baby Monkeys

The study looked at 63 rhesus monkeys, whose mothers consumed up to two alcoholic drinks a day during the equivalent of a human trimester. The baby monkeys' attention spans and motor maturity were significantly reduced, though their growth was not, according to the research, reported in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

For a long time, most doctors have told pregnant women not to drink, or at least not to drink heavily, because of the possibility of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. More liberal doctors have said an occasional glass of wine won't hurt.

"The study is early, but it clearly suggests drinking at any point in the pregnancy can cause some harmful effects," ABCNEWS' Dr. Nancy Snyderman said. "So why put yourself at any sort of risk? Don't drink if you're pregnant."

Fetal Alchol Syndrome Rising

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the leading cause of mental retardation. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that there has been a six-fold increase in the number of babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the last 15 years. Meanwhile, a 1998 survey by the CDC found that the number of pregnant women who reported drinking rose from 9.5 percent in 1992 to 15.3 percent three years later.

The researchers, led by Dr. Mary Schneider of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that a key factor may be when a pregnant woman drinks, rather than how much she drinks.

Better off Tee-Totaling

The study's bottom line: if you're pregnant or even thinking of becoming pregnant, researchers do not know what a safe level for drinking is, and you are better off not drinking at all.

The monkeys used in the study are the closest that scientists can come to human studies, Snyderman said.

Schneider said that earlier studies were deceptive, because women who report drinking late in pregnancy have usually consumed throughout, so it's hard to sort out their timeline.

Also, since many women of childbearing age drink regularly, it's likely that some offspring are exposed to alcohol before pregnancy is detected.

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