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Keywords:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome;
  • Prenatal Alcohol Exposure;
  • Intrauterine Growth Retardation;
  • Postnatal Growth;
  • Body Composition;
  • Prepregnancy Weight;
  • Maternal Nutrition

Background

Fetal alcohol-related growth restriction persists through infancy, but its impact later in life is less clear. Animal studies have demonstrated important roles for maternal nutrition in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, but the impact of prenatal maternal body composition has not been studied in humans. This study examined the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on longitudinal growth from birth through young adulthood and the degree to which maternal weight and body mass index (BMI) moderate these effects.

Methods

Nearly 480 mothers were recruited at their first prenatal clinic visit to overrepresent moderate-to-heavy use of alcohol during pregnancy, including a 5% random sample of low-level drinkers and abstainers. They were interviewed at every prenatal visit about their alcohol consumption using a timeline follow-back approach. Their children were examined for weight, length/height, and head circumference at birth, 6.5 and 13 months, and 7.5, 14, and 19 years.

Results

In multiple regression models with repeated measures (adjusted for confounders), prenatal alcohol exposure was associated with longitudinal reductions in weight, height, and weight-for-length/BMI that were largely determined at birth. At low-to-moderate levels of exposure, these effects were more severe in infancy than in later childhood. By contrast, effects persisted among children whose mothers drank at least monthly and among those born to women with alcohol abuse and/or dependence who had consumed ≥ 4 drinks/occasion. In addition, effects on weight, height, and head circumference were markedly stronger among children born to mothers with lower prepregnancy weight.

Conclusions

These findings confirm prior studies demonstrating alcohol-related reductions in weight, height, weight-for-height/BMI, and head circumference that persist through young adulthood. Stronger effects were seen among children born to mothers with smaller prepregnancy weight, which may have been because of attainment of higher blood alcohol concentrations in smaller mothers for a given amount of alcohol intake or to increased vulnerability in infants born to women with poorer nutrition.