How drinking alcohol during pregnancy affects your baby's brain

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Researchers have mapped what happens to fetal brains exposed to alcohol during pregnancy to find visible changes in brain structure that lead to later psychological and physical development problems.

Scientists used advanced MRI techniques to study the brains of babies developing in the uterus whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy.

According to statistics from the CDC, the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome that leads to physical and mental developmental problems for children is 0.2 to 1.5 per 1,000 births.

Researchers from Poland used 3 different types of MRI to track fetal brain changes that occur from alcohol use during pregnancy.

The study included 200 children whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Researchers compared the finding to 30 children whose mothers did not drink when they were pregnancy or breastfeeding.

They discovered that alcohol consumption leads to changes in the way the area of the brain develops that connects the right and left hemisphere; known as the corpus collosum.

Andrej Urbanik, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiology at Jagiellornian University in Krakow Poland said in a press release, "Drinking alcohol during pregnancy causes problems in brain development that are strongly linked with psychological problems in children.

Symptom of fetal alcohol syndrome include poor growth in the womb and after birth. Infants exposed to alcohol in the womb have problems with muscle coordination and tone, in addition to having a smaller head and upper jaw, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can also lead to low IQ, vision and hearing problems for children and  problems with kidneys, bones and heart.

The finding is presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Fetal alcohol syndrome costs $4 billion annually in the U.S., according to the researchers. 

Advanced technology used in the studies show children exposed to alcohol during pregnancy experience brain changes in structure and metabolism that lead to impaired mental and physical development; specifically in the areas that connect the right and left brain hemispheres. 

Radiological Society of North America
November 25, 2012