Just recently I had a very good friend that found out she was pregnant.  I am very delighted for her and now I am faced with the responsibility of getting some information to her about our weekly gathering where we drink wine and have a few other drinks during the week.  So I did some research before I spoke with her.  What I found was information from the National Institute of Health that is stating that heavy drinking during pregnancy disrupts proper brain development in children and adolescents; sometimes years after they were actually exposed to alcohol in the womb.  This study is the first to track children over several years to examine how heavy exposure to alcohol in utero affects brain growth over time.  What they did was to use an MRI to look at the brain and they found the growth pattern in children whose mothers drank heavily while pregnant differed from normal patterns of development seen in children who were not exposed to alcohol before birth.  They looked at the findings and saw the suggestion that children with heavy alcohol exposure have decreased brain plasticity and that means the brain’s ability to grow and remodel itself based on experience with the outside world.  We all go through that kind of adaptation throughout our lives and it is crucial to learning new things. Ken R. Warren, Ph D., acting director of the national Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stated, “This study documents the long-term impact of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure on brain development.”  It underscores that heavy drinking during pregnancy often has lasting consequences for the child’s growth and development, and reminds us that women who are, who may be, or who are trying to become pregnant, should not drink alcohol.”  Sometimes women may need rehab if they are trying to stop there drinking before their pregnancy.

What happens during normal development is brain volume increases rapidly at a young age as new neural connections are formed and then decreases in certain regions during adolescence as underused brain connections are cleared away to increase efficiency.  Unexposed children showed this pattern of robust growth and reduction in the brain’s outmost layer.  And on the other hand those exposed to alcohol only lost volume.  Looking at 70 children in the study who had been heavily exposed to alcohol in utero that included 13 drinks per week throughout the pregnancy.  The pattern of static growth was most evident in the rear portions of the brain.  That is the part that is involved in selective attention and producing planned movement.  It was also noted that heavier alcohol exposure was linked to lower intelligence, greater facial abnormalities and little change in brain volume between scans.  The children received two scans about two years apart for this study and they ranged in age 5 to 15 years of age.  So armed with this information from this study I felt very comfortable to go to my friend and share this with her.  We made a plan of what we could do instead of drinking alcohol at our weekly gatherings.  Like drink herbal teas and enjoy a fine meal.  Think of your friends who are pregnant and help them have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child.

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