The effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption and binge drinking in early pregnancy on executive function in 5-year-old children

BJOG. 2012 Sep;119(10):1201-10. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2012.03397.x. Epub 2012 Jun 20.


Objective: To examine the effects of low to moderate maternal alcohol consumption and binge drinking in early pregnancy on children's executive functions at the age of 5 years.

Design: Follow-up study.

Setting: Neuropsychological testing in four Danish cities 2003-2008. Population A cohort of 1628 women and their children sampled from the Danish National Birth Cohort.

Methods: Participants were sampled based on maternal alcohol drinking patterns during early pregnancy. When the children were 5 years old, the parent and teacher forms of the Behaviour Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) were completed by the mothers and a preschool teacher. Parental education, maternal IQ, prenatal maternal smoking, the child's age at testing, and the child's gender were considered core confounding factors. The full model also included maternal binge drinking or low to moderate alcohol consumption, maternal age, parity, maternal marital status, family home environment, postnatal parental smoking, pre-pregnancy maternal body mass index (BMI), and the health status of the child.

Main outcome measures: The BRIEF parent and teacher forms.

Results: Adjusted for all potential confounding factors, no statistically significant associations between maternal low to moderate average weekly consumption and BRIEF index scores were observed.In adjusted analyses, binge drinking in gestational week 9 or later was significantly associated with elevated Behavioural Regulation Index parent Scores (2.04, 95% CI 0.33–3.76), and with the risk of high scores on the Metacognitive Index assessed by the teacher (OR 2.06, 95% CI 1.01–4.23) [corrected].

Conclusions: This study did not observe significant effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy on executive functioning at the age of 5 years. Furthermore, only weak and no consistent associations between maternal binge drinking and executive functions were observed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Ethanol / poisoning*
  • Executive Function*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Personality Inventory
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*


  • Ethanol