Mothers who drink in early pregnancy are more likely to have unruly children

“Mothers who drink in early pregnancy are ‘more likely to have unruly children’,” reported the Daily Mail. The newspaper says that a study has found a three-fold risk of antisocial behaviour among 16 year olds whose mothers drank as little as one alcoholic drink per day during early pregnancy.

The US study assessed the possible association between drinking during the first trimester of pregnancy and the risk of a psychiatric condition known as ‘conduct disorder’ in adolescents up to 16 years of age. The disorder can lead to a persistent, marked pattern of repetitive antisocial behaviour that is beyond simply being unruly.

Although the study found an association between conduct disorder and maternal pregnancy, it should be remembered that it is a relatively uncommon condition, and that only 67 adolescents (about 12% of the study population) had experienced it. Therefore further research is needed to reliably assess the influence of prenatal alcohol exposure on the risk of developing the condition.

Current advice is that women trying to conceive and pregnant women, particularly those in the first three months of pregnancy, should refrain from consuming alcohol altogether.

Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from The University of Pittsburgh. It was funded by grants from the US National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism and the US National Institute of Drug Abuse.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Academy Child Adolescent Psychiatry.

This research was covered by the Daily Mail, which reported that alcohol consumption during pregnancy was associated with “unruly behaviour”. It should be emphasised that Conduct Disorder is a specific psychiatric condition diagnosed by a persistent, marked pattern of repetitive antisocial behaviour. It is not clear from this study how alcohol consumption during pregnancy affects minor or short-term symptoms of unruly behaviour.

What kind of research was this?
This was a prospective cohort study, which investigated whether a mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of their child having conduct disorder.

What did the research involve?
The researchers used data from two longitudinal studies which had looked at the effects of substance exposure during pregnancy. One had focused on alcohol consumption and one had focused on marijuana use. But as their study designs were identical, the researchers combined the data. In total, these studies provided data on 829 women who had been recruited from antenatal clinics. The study began in 1982.

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