One glass of wine can stop foetus breathing, new study claims

One glass of wine can stop foetus breathing, new study claims


Even one glass of wine can stop the foetus moving and breathing in the womb for up to two hours, an expert has warned.

Professor Peter Hepper from Queen’s University Belfast carried out a study, the first of its kind, looked at the effects of low-level alcohol exposure on foetuses in the womb through the use of 18-weeks scans on women who drank two and a half units of alcohol per week; the equivalent to a glass of wine (200ml).

Professor Hepper said even one glass of wine or small measure of spirits can influence the behaviour of the foetus in the womb.

“Our study found even a single glass of wine can have a potentially long-term effect on the foetus in terms of its behaviour in the womb. We observed foetuses that stopped breathing or moving for several hours. That’s not normal,” he said.

Irish women with higher levels of income and education are more likely to drink alcohol weekly during their pregnancy, a Growing Up in Ireland study found. “Some groups of women drink lower levels continuously while other women binge drink at weekends and don’t drink during the week,” he said.

“Binge drinking is potentially more harmful because there is more exposure to alcohol but I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that if you drink lower amounts of alcohol more regularly, it’s any less harmful or somehow more safe”

Professor Hepper said very little research has been carried out on foetuses that have been exposed to alcohol anywhere in the world and said there is no such thing as a “safe level” of alcohol to drink during pregnancy.

“What we do know is that if you’re exposed to alcohol in pregnancy you may end up with foetal alcohol syndrome or disorders. If you don’t drink alcohol there’s absolutely no chance of your child having foetal alcohol syndrome and we know that a single glass of alcohol affects the foetus’s behaviour and its brain.”

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is the umbrella term used to describe the range of effects that can be caused by maternal alcohol exposure. Children identified as suffering from FASD show signs of behavioural, intellectual and physical difficulties including learning difficulties, poor language skills, poor memory skills and attention problems.

The Department of Health advises that alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy.

Department of Health guidelines state: “Cutting down or stopping alcohol while trying to get pregnant protects your baby. Continuing to drink, even in small amounts, when you are pregnant puts your baby at risk. The more you drink the greater the amount that is passed on to your baby.”

Professor Hepper said guidance given to women during pregnancy can vary which can lead to confusion.

“The really big problem is that there is no consistent message being given to women anywhere. The advice varies and the amount of alcohol varies – that’s the problem. In the absence of any particular message, women can be unsure of what to do,” he said.

“There is talk of a safe level of alcohol to drink during pregnancy but very little facts and evidence to back that up. The only safe level of alcohol to drink during pregnancy is zero,” he said.

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