MONDAY, Nov. 15, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Women who drink while pregnant not only run the risk of having a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, but of having a baby with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, a new study finds.

Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder can occur in children with prenatal exposure to alcohol. These children have alcohol-induced cognitive and behavioral problems without the characteristic facial or growth abnormalities seen among children with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Children with fetal alcohol syndrome can have IQs less than 70. Now results of the new study show for the first time that children with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder also have lower IQs.

"In the past, we thought IQ effects were seen only in children with full-blown fetal alcohol syndrome," said lead researcher Sandra W. Jacobson, a professor of psychology at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit. Now it has been shown that children with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder also have intellectual impairment, she added.

Jacobson's team has been following 337 inner-city black children whose mothers were recruited for the research while they were pregnant. The children, who are now 7.5 years old, were given the given the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-III test. This is the IQ test most commonly given to children aged 7 to 14.

During pregnancy, the researchers collected data on the mother's drinking, education and IQ, smoking and drug use, quality of parenting, maternal depression and alcohol-related problems, according to their report in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Jacobson and her colleagues found that for every two additional drinks per day consumed during pregnancy, there was a three-point drop in overall IQ for the children and a five-and-a-half point drop in the ability to concentrate.

Women over 30 who drink seem to be most at risk for having a child with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, Jacobson said.

"When women are pregnant, they should try not to drink," Jacobson stressed. "Especially, not to binge drink and not to drink heavily," she added.

Jacobson said that averaging one drink a day is not the same as not drinking during the week but drinking excessively on weekends. "That's what places the kids at risk," she said.

Jacobson also said IQ isn't the only way infants with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder are affected. There can be shortcomings with attention, reaction time and recognition memory, she said.

"A lot of women know not to drink during pregnancy," Jacobson said. "If a woman wants to get pregnant, she should stop drinking before conception." Women who have a drinking problem should get help and should also discuss the problem with their doctor, Jacobson advised.

Lynn T. Singer, a professor of psychology and deputy provost at Case Western Reserve University, said, "We are starting to understand the effects of alcohol on children who do not have full fetal alcohol syndrome. Mothers need to be warned about the possibilities of effects."

The new study identifies the women most at risk for having children with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, Singer noted. They include women over 30, women who drink during conception, women with a history of drinking problems, and women who drink excessively over short periods.

Singer believes there may be a genetic component as well.

"We have only begun to explore the effects of alcohol on the cognitive domain," Singer said. "We still need to learn a lot more about the emotional effects."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can tell you more about fetal alcohol syndrome.

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