Now, there’s more evidence of the dangers of heavy drinking while pregnant. New research shows that children whose mothers drank while pregnant had abnormal brain development patterns years after being exposed to alcohol in the womb.
The study is the first to follow children over time using magnetic resonance imaging technology to look at how heavy alcohol exposure before birth interferes with brain growth in childhood and adolescence.
The findings suggest that children with heavy alcohol exposure may have decreased brain plasticity—the brain’s ability to grow and remodel itself based on experience with the outside world.
Such adaptation continues throughout tone’s life and is crucial to learning new skills and adapting to the environment.
During normal development, brain volume increases rapidly at a young age as new neural connections form and then decrease in certain regions during adolescence as underused brain connections are cleared away to increase efficiency. While children whose mothers didn’t drink showed this pattern of robust brain growth and reduction, children with heavy exposure to alcohol showed patterns of static growth.
Among the 70 children in the study who had been heavily exposed to alcohol in utero (13 drinks per week throughout the pregnancy, on average), lack of growth was most obvious in the rear portions of the brain—particularly in the parietal cortex, which is thought to be involved in selective attention and the production of planned movement.
From; NIAAA Spectrum Volume 5, Issue 1 | February 2013. American National Institutes of Health • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism