One Drink Could Literally Change the Face of Your Child

A new study shows how alcohol changes the facial shape of babies in the womb.

Jenny finally made it through her difficult first trimester. The weeks of nausea and overwhelming exhaustion were over. She felt like she could once again handle a night out.

While enjoying dinner with friends at her favorite pasta place, she debated pairing her entree with a glass of wine. Would it hurt? Jenny had heard a little wine now and then could actually be good for you. Surely just one glass wouldn’t affect her baby – right?

Sorry, Jenny. Actually, researchers have discovered your assumption isn’t fully accurate.

While that one glass of wine might not cause fetal alcohol syndrome, even the occasional drink can affect the baby’s development.

Here’s what researchers discovered:

A Little Can Change a Lot

Assessing the drinking habits of more than 400 women during pregnancy, researchers found “prenatal alcohol exposure – even at low levels – subtly influenced the formation of facial features in the womb, including the nose, chin, and eyes.”

Extensive previous studies made the dangers of drinking during pregnancy very clear. We already know alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause physical and developmental problems including vision and hearing issues, intellectual disabilities, small head size, learning disabilities, and low birth-weight.

We also know that exposure to alcohol can influence a child’s facial development. However, it was unclear what level of alcohol consumption would cause this effect.

After mapping the facial features of study participants’ babies at the age of one year, researchers affirm that “there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy...even the occasional drink can affect a baby’s facial development.”

The research team used a 3-D facial analysis technique that mapped roughly 7,000 individual dot points on the face. This facial imaging revealed that “low, moderate and high intake of alcohol led to changes in the formation of facial features among offspring.” For the study, low intake was defined as less than 20 grams of alcohol per drinking occasion and less than 70 grams per week. Researchers labeled 21-49 grams per occasion and less than 70 grams per week as moderate, and more than 50 grams of alcohol per occasion was considered high intake.

Shaping the Image of Your Child

Long before this study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held that “there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy, nor is there a safe time to drink alcohol while pregnant.” Yet, they found that about ten percent of expectant moms in the U.S. state they’ve consumed alcohol in the past month.

This study further confirms the recommendation for expectant women to abstain from alcohol during the course of their pregnancy. Even small amounts are influential on fetal development.

Professor Jane Halliday, Ph.D., explains, “We were surprised to see that these comparatively low levels of alcohol do have a subtle impact and our findings support national recommendations to abstain from drinking alcohol in pregnancy." Co-author of the study, Elizabeth Elliott, adds, “The information from our study is particularly important. It affirms my need to advise women to avoid alcohol during pregnancy and gives me new evidence to support that advice.”

Image Source: iStock

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