Drinking in early pregnancy tied to cleft lip

Women who binge drink in the first three months of pregnancy have an increased risk of having infants with cleft lip and cleft palate, according to findings in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“Some evidence exists that women who drink alcohol during pregnancy are more likely than nondrinkers to have infants with facial clefts,” Dr. Lisa A. DeRoo and colleagues write, “but summarizing previous findings is hampered by different categories of drinks and time points of reference across studies.”

DeRoo, with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues investigated this topic in a study involving infants with oral clefts born between 1996 and 2001 in Norway. A total of 377 infants with cleft lip with or without cleft palate, 196 with cleft palate only, and 763 unaffected subjects were included in the study.

Mothers completed questionnaires within a few months after delivery regarding alcohol use during the first trimester.

Compared with non-drinkers, women who drank at least five drinks per occasion had more than a two-fold risk of having an infant with cleft lip or palate. For women who drank this amount on three or more occasions, the risk of a cleft defect tripled.

The researchers conclude: “These data on possible further (harmful birth) effects of alcohol reinforce the public health message that women should not drink alcohol during pregnancy.”

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, September 15, 2008.

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