Is prenatal alcohol exposure related to inattention and hyperactivity symptoms in children? Disentangling the effects of social adversity

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2009 Sep;50(9):1073-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02071.x. Epub 2009 Feb 27.


Background: Studies concerning whether exposure to low levels of maternal alcohol consumption during fetal development is related to child inattention and hyperactivity symptoms have shown conflicting results. We examine the contribution of covariates related to social adversity to resolve some inconsistencies in the extant research by conducting parallel analyses of three cohorts with varying alcohol consumption and attitudes towards alcohol use.

Methods: We compare three population-based pregnancy-offspring cohorts within the Nordic Network on ADHD from Denmark and Finland. Prenatal data were gathered via self-report during pregnancy and birth outcomes were abstracted from medical charts. A total of 21,678 reports concerning inattention and hyperactivity symptoms in children were available from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire or the Rutter Scale completed by parents and/or teachers.

Results: Drinking patterns differed cross-nationally. Women who had at least some social adversity (young, low education, or being single) were more likely to drink than those better off in the Finnish cohort, but the opposite was true for the Danish cohorts. Prenatal alcohol exposure was not related to risk for a high inattention-hyperactivity symptom score in children across cohorts after adjustment for covariates. In contrast, maternal smoking and social adversity during pregnancy were independently and consistently associated with an increase in risk of child symptoms.

Conclusions: Low doses of alcohol consumption during pregnancy were not related to child inattention/hyperactivity symptoms once social adversity and smoking were taken into account.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / etiology*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Denmark
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Problems
  • Young Adult