Decades of research have left little doubt that prenatal alcohol exposure has adverse effects on intellectual and neurobehavioral development.
A recent study of the effects of moderate to heavy prenatal alcohol exposure on cognitive function confirms earlier findings of slower processing speed and efficiency, particularly when cognitive tasks involve working memory. Results are published in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"Prenatal alcohol exposure is often associated with slower reaction times and poorer attention in infancy, and some of these deficits may be at the core of poorer academic performance and behavior problems often seen later in childhood," said Matthew J. Burden, postdoctoral research fellow at Wayne State University School of Medicine and corresponding author for the study. "In cases of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) … lower IQ scores are common, often reaching the level of mental retardation. This is because alcohol consumed by the mother has a direct impact on the brain of the fetus.
However, full FAS is not required to see this impact; it is just less obvious to detect across the array of exposures found in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), which include effects of prenatal alcohol at lower drinking levels," reports Medical News Today.
According to Daily Mail, the researchers found that the alcohol-exposed children were able to perform memory, number and other tasks as well as other youngsters when these tasks were simple, such as naming colors in a time period. But when the children were pressed to respond quickly while having to think about the response, their processing speed slowed down significantly.
The Department of Health said: "Current DoH advice is that women who are pregnant or who are trying to get pregnant should not drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol per week.
Julie Croxford, of Wayne State University in Detroit, said: "They may be able to perform simple tasks, but may struggle with tasks that are more challenging and require complex cognition and the use of working memory.
"This is likely to mean these children may be more and more challenged the older they get."
Fellow researcher Matthew Burden said: "Prenatal alcohol exposure is often associated with slower reaction times and poorer attention in infancy, and some of these deficits may be at the core of poorer academic performance and behavior problems often seen later in childhood."
Around one in every 3,000 babies suffers from the full effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, informs Mirror.