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Alcohol risk to fetus is highest at end of 1st trimester

Any drinking during pregnancy increases the odds of fetal alcohol syndrome, but the risk to the fetus is highest if a pregnant woman drinks during the second half of her first trimester of pregnancy, a new study finds.

For every one drink per day increase in alcohol intake during that crucial period, a woman’s baby was 25 percent more likely to have an abnormally shaped lip, 12 percent more likely to have a smaller-than-normal head and 16 percent more likely to have low birth weight — all early signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, the study showed.

"The take-home message is that there's not a low threshold level below which drinking alcohol doesn't raise the risk," of fetal alcohol syndrome, said study author Dr. Christina Chambers of the University of California, San Diego. "This supports the surgeon general's recommendation that drinking be avoided entirely."

The new findings were published today (Jan. 16) in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Pregnancy and substances

Chambers and her colleagues recruited the 992 participants for their study from pregnant women who called a California telephone help line that answers questions on substances that could be harmful during pregnancy — including not only alcohol and illegal drug intake, but also chemical exposures and prescription drug safety.
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