Preteens Feel the Effects of Mom’s Pregnancy Bad Habitsby Karen Vieira, MBA, PhD | April 20, 2008
It has been known for years that babies in utero (womb) suffer ill effects from their mothers’ exposure to tobacco, drugs and alcohol. A new study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and performed by Michael Rivkin of Children’s Hospital Boston showed that children exposed to these toxins may suffer effects well into early adolescence.
Using MRI technology, the study looked into the long term effects of prenatal exposure to drugs, alcohol, tobacco or a combination of the three on the brain structure of preteens. The study found that these kids have thinner cortical grey matter than subjects who did not suffer exposure to toxins in utero. This study also showed a reduction in brain volume directly tied to this exposure.
There have been many studies pointing to the long term effects of alcohol on babies in utero but generally these types of studies have only looked at children suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. There is a lack of studies on children who were not diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome but may be affected by even their limited prenatal alcohol intake. There is continuing research into the many effects of prenatal alcohol use.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which is the diagnosis for these affected preteens, is not itself a disease but is a group of symptoms. The neurological effects can range from mild to very serious. The symptoms include everything from epilepsy, seizure disorders, hearing loss, clumsiness, poor gait, and impaired fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. It also may cause another related disorder called Sensory Integration Disorder or SID.
SID is defined as a neurological disorder that interferes with the information processing related to the five senses: taste, hearing, touch, smell and sight. This causes the brain to perceive information from the body abnormally. This often causes hyper- and hypo-sensitivities in affected children. An example of hyper-sensitivity is the inability to tolerate touch or even the feel of clothes against the skin. Conversely, hypo-sensitivity can make a child very restless and in constant need of stimulation.
There is no doubt that more studies will continue to find these types of brain disorders in children exposed to alcohol, drugs and/or tobacco in utero. It would not be surprising to find that these effects may stay with these children for their entire lifetime. It is the hope of most researchers that this information will lead to better education programs for pregnant women.
Rivkin, M.J., Davis, P.E., Lemaster, J.L., Cabral, H.J., Warfield, S.K., Mulkern, R.V., Robson, C.D., Rose-Jacobs, R., Frank, D.A. (2008). Volumetric MRI Study of Brain in Children With Intrauterine Exposure to Cocaine, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Marijuana. Pediatrics, 121(4), 741-750. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2007-1399
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