Most women are well-aware that drinking during pregnancy can put their child at risk for developing fetal alcohol syndrome and other birth defects. However, new research indicates that even pre-pregnancy drinking can also lead to certain developmental problems especially if the mother struggles with addiction or binge drinking.
According to a recent study, risk drinking before pregnancy increases the risk of the development of behavioral problems in toddlers. These problems can be prevented from becoming long term behavioral issues if mothers and children receive early intervention and support.
Women that drink excessively should consider getting help for alcoholism as early as possible if they are considering having a child in the future.
Risk Drinking and Child Behavior
The research which discovered the link between development problems and drinking before pregnancy used data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. In this study, several screening questions were used to determine the mother's drinking behavior including how many drinks they needed, if they had ever been criticized for their alcohol consumption, if they thought they should try to drink less and if they have ever had alcohol in the morning to cure a hangover.
Based on the results, researchers determined that mothers who exhibited more risk drinking behavior before pregnancy were more likely to have children with behavioral problems. The research also revealed that this kind of risk drinking may be due to other factors that play a role in maternal behavior such as anxiety, depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
These kinds of mental health issues can also have an impact on child behavioral problems.
Mental Health Contributes to Child Development
There has been plenty of documented evidence that drinking during pregnancy affects the developing fetus creating cognitive and behavioral problems and paternal risk drinking after pregnancy is also known to have a negative impact on toddler behavior. This study is the first to discover the impact of heavy drinking before pregnancy without any risk drinking taking place during or after pregnancy.
While researchers found a correlation between mothers engaging in risk drinking before becoming pregnant it is unclear whether the alcohol itself is the cause of the children's behavioral problems. Their findings led them to believe that the behavioral problems may not be a result of the drinking itself but are caused by the mother's general mental health and lifestyle.
A mother that is addicted to alcohol or drinks excessively prior to pregnancy is more at risk for having pre-existing mental health problems which can contribute to a child's behavioral issues.
The toddlers involved in the study showed irregular behavior that is not considered healthy development for children of their particular age group when their mothers engaged in risk drinking in the past. Researchers studies the internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems of the children.
Internalizing behavior includes anxiety, inhibition, withdrawal or depression. Externalizing behavior often involves restlessness, defiance, fighting and lack of remorse.
Children that exhibit these types of behavior are thought to have developmental problems which can sometimes continue into adolescence or even adulthood. The toddlers with behavioral problems were connected to mothers with histories of risk drinking.
While the mental health of the mother had already affected the children, with follow up care and support the families can prevent these behavioral problems from being a lifelong issue. The early years of a child's life are crucial and mothers who have had alcohol problems in the past will need special care for their child to ensure a healthy development.
Mothers will need care for any remaining mental health problems that were a factor in their drinking behavior and continue to be a problem.