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Drinking Late in First Trimester May Be Most Hazardous
Date:1/17/2012

cluding specific dates of use, drinks per day, number of binge episodes and maximum number of drinks.

Information about their babies' development was collected after birth, and each newborn was then examined by a dysmorphologist, a specialist in structural birth defects, to look for evidence of fetal alcohol syndrome as well as other conditions.

While higher levels of alcohol exposure were strongly linked to a greater risk of infants born smaller and lighter, with small heads and a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip, the most significant associations were observed during the second half of the first trimester of pregnancy -- defined as 43 to 84 days after conception.

For every one-drink increase in the daily average number of drinks consumed during this stage of pregnancy, there was a 25 percent higher risk for having a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip; a 22 percent higher chance of having an abnormally thin upper lip; a 12 percent elevated risk of having a smaller-than-normal head; a 16 percent greater risk of reduced birth weight; and an 18 percent higher chance of reduced birth length.

In addition, the likelihood of shorter birth length was associated with drinking in any trimester, the study found.

"There is almost 40 years of research [on fetal alcohol syndrome], but one of the challenges has been determining what are the windows of risk and the patterns in timing and quantity of alcohol use, and this [study] addresses that," said Tom Donaldson, president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Washington, D.C. "This article very clearly demonstrates that risk begins with any use."

Chambers and her colleagues theorized that alcohol exposure in the first six weeks of pregnancy -- when many women don't yet know they're pregnant -- may result in higher miscarriage rates, although the study did not include women who had miscarriages or stillbirths.

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