Mother's Alcohol Consumption During Pregnancy Can Raise Baby's Risk for Oral Clef

Pregnant women who binge drink early in their pregnancies increase the likelihood that their babies will be born with oral clefts, according to researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Common types of oral cleft are cleft lip and cleft palate. A cleft lip is a condition that creates an opening in the upper lip between the mouth and nose, giving the appearance of a split in the lip. A cleft palate occurs when the roof of the mouth has not joined completely and can range from an opening at the back of the soft palate to a nearly complete separation of the roof of the mouth.

Researchers conducted a population-based study in Norway, which has one of the highest rates of oral clefts in Europe. They contacted the families of all infants with clefts born during the period from 1996 through 2001. They included 573 mothers in the study who had babies born with cleft lip with or without cleft palate (377) or cleft palate only (196), as well as 763 mothers they randomly selected from all those in Norway.

The mothers completed a self-administered mailed questionnaire that focused heavily on the mother's lifestyle and environmental exposures during her first three months of pregnancy, when a baby's facial development takes place.

Researchers found that infants whose mothers reported having drunk an average of five or more drinks per occasion (binge drinking) during the first trimester were at an increased risk of having oral clefts compared to infants whose mothers were nondrinkers. Risk was further increased among infants of women who had drunk at this level most frequently.

"The greater the blood alcohol concentration, the longer the fetus is exposed," said Lisa A. DeRoo, PhD, lead author on the study. "A single binge during a critical period of an infant's development can be harmful."

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