Researchers have discovered that even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant may change the face of a baby developing in utero.
Lead researcher Jane Halliday with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Victoria, Australia, says that they’ve found that small changes in a child’s facial shape development could be the result of small amounts of alcohol ingested while her mother was pregnant.
Halliday said that these subtle changes were in the shape of eyes, nose and lips, and that they are not sure if those small changes correlate to any differences in their development otherwise. They believe more research on these children as they grow may shed light on that.
To find out whether low levels of alcohol consumption affected the development of a pregnant woman’s child, the team looked at 1570 pregnant women throughout their gestation and births of their children. They surveyed the women and found that 27 percent said they drank at least small amounts of alcohol, even when pregnant.
When the children born of the study were one year old, the research team took pictures of 415 babies using multiple cameras and angles. Using photographic computer software, Halliday’s team was able to compile 3D photographs that gave detailed information of about 70,000 points on the babies’ faces. They looked at subtle differences in the faces of babies whose mothers drank small amounts of alcohol compared to those who did not, and found that the babies of mothers who drank had slightly shorter, more up-turned noses.
The changes were not visible to the naked eye, and were extremely subtle. According to Halliday, the subtlety of the differences may not even be life-lasting, as a baby’s face changes so drastically in the first two years of life.
So should women who have a little drink while pregnant worry?
According to Halliday, they should not. She says that at this stage of research, there are no problems that have been identified, and even if alcohol does seem to show an effect, there are many other factors that have an influence on a baby’s health and development.
She hopes that the 3D photography that was used for this research may be able to more easily and accurately diagnose mild cases of fetal alcohol disorder in babies. This may help provide evidence of excessive alcohol exposure in children who have other signs of a behavioral disorder with no known exposure to alcohol.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is a worldwide problem and one often misdiagnosed or not recognized. This photography and the research findings from this report may be able to help identify children more easily in order to provide them with the help they need.
It is unknown what may protect babies who have no known effects of excessive amounts of alcohol exposure while growing in utero. Researchers suggest that not drinking alcohol once your pregnancy is known could be the safest way to prevent any issues.