Latest scientific news 13 February 2014

Binge drinking during pregnancy is associated with smaller babies

Results from the Born in Bradford Study provide evidence for an increased risk of small for gestational age (SGA) births associated with binge drinking.

Alcohol can cross the placenta during pregnancy to enter the baby’s blood and potentially alter the development of the fetus. Frequent alcohol use in early pregnancy has been linked to congenital malformations of the heart, brain and kidney. Excessive alcohol consumption throughout pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and has been associated with preterm birth and growth restriction. Estimates of binge drinking during pregnancy vary from 3% to 26% internationally. Animal studies suggest that peak alcohol exposure during a binge drinking episode rather than total alcohol exposure may determine the fetal development. Research about the impact of binge drinking on the risk of premature or small babies is rare and inconclusive.

The results of the current study show that there is a 68% increase in the risk of a small baby for women who binge drink during the second trimester of pregnancy. No increased risk of SGA was observed in women who drank low to moderate levels of alcoholic beverages during pregnancy. This study adds to the evidence of a dose-response relationship with significant risks attributed to binge drinking.

Cooper DL et al, The association between binge drinking and birth outcomes: results from the Born in Bradford cohort study, J Epidemiol Community Health 2013; 67:821-828.