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Warning: Even Lower Amounts of Alcohol Before or During Pregnancy Can Change the Child’s Face

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Alcohol pregnancy can change a child's face

It’s well documented that consuming large amounts of alcohol while pregnant puts the baby at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, a non-curable yet fully preventable condition whose symptoms can include cognitive impairment, delayed growth, and abnormal facial features.

A new study from The Netherlands has found for the first time that even lower levels of alcohol consumption before and/or during pregnancy are associated with changes in the shape of the child’s face.

The researchers used artificial intelligence and deep learning technology to examine the faces of more than 5,000 nine and 13-year-old children and compared them to the prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) they had, based on questionnaires their mothers completed.

They found a “significant association” between PAE and facial changes in the nine year olds; the higher the level of PAE, the greater the changes. They included turned-up nose tips, shortened noses, turned-out chins, and turned-in lower eyelids.

The association between PAE and facial changes existed even if the women drank less than a glass of wine or beer a week.

The findings are important, according to the researchers, because the facial changes can be a “biomarker” for health and developmental problems.

The link diminished or was obscured as children aged, possibly due to the environment or normal growth patterns.

But that does not mean that alcohol's effect on the health will also disappear,” the study authors warned.

They noted that the results don’t show that the alcohol caused the changes in the children’s faces, only that it’s “associated” with them. There’s also a possibility that other factors were at play, such as whether the mothers underestimated or denied their drinking on the questionnaires.

The association between low levels of PAE and children’s facial shape has been reported previously, but this study found an association at a much lower dose of exposure, and seems more worried about the findings.

The findings were published in Human Reproduction.

“Our study suggests that women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant soon should quit alcohol consumption several months before conception and completely during pregnancy to avoid adverse health outcomes in the offspring,” the study concludes.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The study provides sound advice. But it raises additional questions.

After all, what about the innocent women who have some wine or beer before they know they’re pregnant or months before they are even thinking about it? The study only reviewed PAE during pregnancy and up to three months beforehand. When does the association between PAE and changes in a child’s face first begin? Four months? Eight months? And are certain women more at risk?

Also, is there a link between the father’s drinking and the child’s health or facial changes?

It sounds like we need more research so that there is more guidance.

Putting that aside, I must admit that the thought that small amounts of alcohol can rearrange a person’s facial features particularly creepy.

What do you think of this finding that lower amounts of alcohol before or during pregnancy can change the child’s face? Are you also creeped out by it, or are you not surprised? Send us a message at Always feel free to reach out to us with any questions or feedback.

Photo courtesy of Human Reproduction

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