A group of scientists have found that drinking even a small amount of alcohol during pregnancy can change the shape of your infant’s face

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By Hayley Fryer

It is widely known that pregnant women should avoid drinking alcohol.

Although it is not common for women to binge drink during pregnancy, research has found that around 27 per cent continue to drink at least some alcohol during pregnancy.

Jane Halliday, and her research team at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute from Victoria, Australia, found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can alter the face shape of infants in ways that are not visible to the naked eye.


The research

The team took photographs of the babies’ faces when they turned one, and found slight differences in the faces of babies whose mothers had drunk during pregnancy compared to those whose mothers had not.

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Halliday and her team took 3-dimensional craniofacial images of 415 children when they turned one.

They found anatomical differences in facial shape in children whose mothers had drunk alcohol during pregnancy compared to those whose mothers had abstained.

Differences were concentrated around the midface, nose, lips, and eyes. One main difference was noticed around the nose, showing shortening of the nose and an upturned nose tip.

The team also found differences in the face shape of infants depending on the level of alcohol the mother drank in the first trimester. Babies who had low exposure to alcohol in the first trimester had marked differences in forehead shape compared to babies who had been exposed to no alcohol. Whereas, babies exposed to binge-level drinking had differences in chin shape.

This is relevant because many women drink high amounts of alcohol in the first trimester before realising they are pregnant.


What if you drink a lot of alcohol?

Drinking large quantities of alcohol during pregnancy can give your child foetal alcohol syndrome.

alcohol3Image taken from PregMed.com

The UK has one of the worst rates of drinking while pregnant in Europe, with four in ten women drinking during pregnancy.

As well as alterations to face shape, drinking as little as half a pint of beer per week during pregnancy has been shown to reduce an infant’s IQ by several points. Drinking any more than this can lead to learning difficulties.

Research published in The Lancet Global Health found that Britain has one of the highest rates of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world.

The global average of this condition is around 15 out of 10,000 births, whereas Britain’s is as high as 61.3 cases.

Although some women do suffer with alcohol addiction problems, it is thought that many cases of foetal alcohol syndrome occur when women binge drink during the first trimester, before they realise they are pregnant.

Foetal alcohol syndrome is characterised by pronounced facial features, such as small eye openings, a short up-turned nose, and a smooth philtrum over the upper lip.

This condition can leave babies with learning difficulties and behavioural issues, as well as hearing and vision loss, and poor growth with organ damage.


Should parents be worried?

Although binge drinking during pregnancy can cause lasting issues, Halliday says that drinking a small amount of alcohol has not yet been shown to cause lasting damage

alcohol4.jpgImage taken from cdc.gov

The results of the research suggest that drinking small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can cause small changes to facial shape of infants.

However, Halliday states that at this stage of their research, they have not found any significant issues that are caused by drinking a small amount during pregnancy.

It is also important to note that a baby’s face can change a lot during their first two years of life, and therefore the slight changes seen in infants exposed to small amounts of alcohol compared to those not exposed to alcohol may not be lasting.

Although there are not yet any known long-term implications from consuming a small amount of alcohol during pregnancy, experts still say that the safest course of action is not to drink any alcohol at all.


The research: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2630627

More information: https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/avoid-alcohol