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Binge Drinking during Pregnancy Increases Children’s Risk of Mental Health Problems

Update Date: Sep 11, 2014 01:04 PM EDT

During pregnancy, women are instructed to avoid certain food and beverage items. However, not everyone listens to the doctors. In a new study, researchers examined the relationship between binge drinking during pregnancy and children's mental health. The team found these children had an increase risk of mental health problems, such as hyperactivity and inattention.

For the purpose of this study, binge drinking was defined as consuming four or more units of alcohol within a day at least once throughout a pregnancy. Women were asked about their drinking habits during weeks 18 and 32 of pregnancy and once again when their children were five-years-old.

The researchers examined data on more than 4,000 children from the Children of the 90s Study from the University of Bristol in the UK. The team distributed questionnaires regarding the children's mental health at the age of 11 to parents and teachers. Data on the children's academic performance, which included English, mathematics and science, were taken from the Key Stage 2 examinations that were administered during the last year in primary school.

Roughly a quarter of the mothers had a pattern of binge drinking. More than half of these mothers had admitted to binge drinking at least once or twice during the month prior to the questionnaire. The majority of the women who were binge drinkers at 18 weeks of pregnancy continued to be binge drinkers at week 32.

The team found that women who were binge drinkers had children with slightly higher levels of hyperactivity and inattention based on the teachers' report. These children's Key Stage 2 examinations scores were roughly one point lower. According to the parents' answers on the questionnaire, binge drinking was also tied to slightly higher levels of hyperactivity and inattention with the association being stronger in girls.

"Women who are pregnant or who are planning to become pregnant should be aware of the possible risks associated with episodes of heavier drinking during pregnancy, even if this only occurs on an occasional basis," Professor Kapil Sayal from the University of Nottingham, the report's main author, said. "The consumption of four or more drinks in a day may increase the risk for hyperactivity and inattention problems and lower academic attainment even if daily average levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy are low."

The researchers found no link between binge drinking in women when their children were five-years-old and children's mental health.

Sayal added according to Medical Xpress, "The study's findings highlight the need for clear policy messages about patterns of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, whereby women who choose to drink occasionally should avoid having several drinks in a day."

The study "Prenatal exposure to binge pattern of alcohol consumption: mental health and learning outcomes at age 11," was published in the journal, European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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