DRINKING before pregnancy could change your baby's face, a study claims.
Just one small glass of wine a week had an effect on how babies looked, which remained as they got older, researchers found.
This is because booze can cause foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which affects facial growth in the womb and damages the brain.
While previous research has shown drinking during pregnancy can result in a slightly shorter, more upturned nose in children, this study also links it to alcohol before conception.
Dr Gennady Roshchupkin, of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, said: “I would call the face a ‘health mirror’ as it reflects the overall health of a child.
“A child’s exposure to alcohol before birth can have significant adverse effects on its health development.
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“If a mother regularly drinks a large amount, this can result in foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, which is reflected in children’s faces.”
Up to 2.4million people were believed to have had FASD in the UK in 2020.
The condition causes slower growth and brain problems, with a noticeable effect on how face’s develop in the womb.
It is a lifelong condition with no cure, although early diagnosis can help improve a child’s development with drugs for symptoms and behaviour and education therapy.
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Symptoms include learning difficulties, memory and behaviour problems, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Previous studies have suggested it is caused by drinking during pregnancy, particularly heavy sessions.
The latest research, published in the journal Human Reproduction, linked the condition to even small amounts of alcohol.
What does foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) do?
FASD can cause problems with:
- movement, balance, vision and hearing
- learning, such as problems with thinking, concentration, and memory
- managing emotions and developing social skills
- hyperactivity and impulse control
- communication, such as problems with speech
- the joints, muscles, bones, and organs, such as the kidneys and heart
These problems are permanent, though early treatment and support can help limit their impact on a child's life
Source: The NHS
Researchers used artificial intelligence (AI) technology to analyse 3-D images of more than 3,000 children aged nine and nearly 2,500 aged 13.
Their mothers’ drinking habits were recorded in questionnaires completed in early, mid- and late pregnancy.
They were split into three groups: those who did not drink at all, those who drank during the three months before but stopped during, and those who continued drinking throughout.
Face shape changes in children aged nine — including a turned-up nose tip, shortened nose, turned-out chin and turned-in lower eyelid — were significantly associated with mothers who drank before or during pregnancy.
The more they drank, the more pronounced the changes were, although just 12g of alcohol a week — the equivalent of a 330ml beer — was found to have an effect.
Dr Roshchupkin said: “It is possible that as a child ages, these changes may diminish or be obscured by normal growth patterns.
“But that does not mean that alcohol's effect on health will also disappear.
“Therefore, it is crucial to emphasise that there is no established safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
“It is advisable to cease drinking alcohol even before conception to ensure optimal health outcomes for both the mother and the developing foetus.”
However, independent experts questioned how well the study was able to accurately record whether mothers had drunk.
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Professor Matt Sydes, of University College London, said: “A key limitation is likely recall bias in reporting the levels of alcohol consumption or even deliberate misreporting.
“Self-reported alcohol consumption is perhaps a little unreliable, and this maybe more pronounced in a group that’s repeatedly told not to drink.”
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