Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) is a community health problem with up to 50% of pregnant women drinking alcohol. The relationship between low or sporadic binge PAE and adverse child outcomes is not clear. This study examines the association between PAE in the general antenatal population and child neurodevelopment at 2 years, accounting for relevant contributing factors.
This prospective population-based cohort recruited 1570 pregnant women, providing sociodemographic, psychological and lifestyle information and alcohol use for five time periods. PAE categories were ‘low’, ‘moderate/high’, ‘binge’, in trimester 1 or throughout pregnancy. Measures of cognitive, language and motor development (Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development) were available for 554 children, while measures of sensory processing (Infant/Toddler Sensory Profile) and social–emotional development (Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment) were available for 948.
A positive association in univariate analysis with low-level PAE throughout pregnancy and cognition (β=4.1, 95% CI −0.02 to 8.22, p=0.05) was attenuated by adjusting for environmental/social deprivation risk factors (β=3.06 (−1.19 to 7.30), p=0.16). Early binge drinking, plus continued PAE at lower levels, was associated with the child being more likely to score low in sensation avoidance (adjusted OR 1.88 (1.03 to 3.41), p=0.04).
Early binge exposure, followed by lower-level PAE, demonstrated an increase in sensation-avoiding behaviour. There were, however, no significant associations between PAE and neurodevelopment following adjustment for important confounders and modifiers. Follow-up is paramount to investigate subtle or later onset problems.