Early identification of risk for effects of prenatal alcohol exposure

J Stud Alcohol. 2000 Jul;61(4):607-16. doi: 10.15288/jsa.2000.61.607.


Objective: Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and less severe outcomes are typically diagnosed later in childhood, although earlier diagnosis of the effects of exposure would allow intervention in infancy and prevention of associated secondary disabilities. Identification is particularly difficult in such high-risk groups as low-birthweight infants. The goal of this study was to develop methods for early identification of at-risk infants.

Method: Three methods (microcephaly, heavy episodic drinking [> 5 drinks/occasion] in pregnancy and a cumulative risk index) identified neonates at risk for those developmental consequences of prenatal exposure that can be measured at 6 and 12 months (i.e., standard scores on Bayley Scales of Infant Development and growth measures). The usefulness of these methods was assessed by comparing those infants selected to an unexposed contrast group, while controlling for potentially confounding factors (e.g., race, socioeconomic status and birthweight).

Results: At 6 months, when 70 infants were tested, trends were found for lower language facet scores and lower scores on the Behavioral Regulation Scale; at 12 months, when 134 were tested, alcohol-exposed infants had significantly lower cognitive facet scores (p < .02) and were more likely to be classified as either mildly or significantly developmentally delayed (p < .02).

Conclusions: It is possible to identify infants at risk for alcohol-related developmental delays using information available in the neonatal period, although it is not usually done. Of the three methods tested, a cumulative risk index based on maternal characteristics was found to be most predictive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / psychology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors