Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Light drinking in pregnancy, a risk for behavioural problems and cognitive deficits at 3 years of age?

By Yvonne Kelly, Amanda Sacker, Ron Gray, John Kelly, Dieter Wolke and Maria A. Quigley


Background\ud The objective of this study was to determine whether there was an association between mothers’ light drinking during pregnancy and risk of behavioural problems, and cognitive deficits in their children at age 3 years.\ud Methods\ud Data from the first two sweeps of the nationally representative prospective UK Millennium Cohort study were used. Drinking patterns during pregnancy and behavioural and cognitive outcomes were assessed during interviews and home visits. Behavioural problems were indicated by scores falling above defined clinically 15 relevant cut-offs on the parent-report version of the Strengths and\ud Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). Cognitive ability was assessed using the naming vocabulary subscale from the British Ability Scale (BAS) and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment (BSRA).\ud Results \ud There was a J-shaped relationship between mothers drinking\ud 20 during pregnancy and the likelihood of high scores (above the cut-off) on the total difficulties scale of the SDQ and the conduct problems, hyperactivity and emotional symptom SDQ subscales. Children born to light drinkers were less likely to score above the cut-offs compared with children of abstinent mothers. Children 25 born to heavy drinkers were more likely to score above the cut-offs\ud compared with children of abstinent mothers. Boys born to mothers who had up to 1–2 drinks per week or per occasion were less likely to have conduct problems (OR 0.59, 95% CI 0.45–0.77) and hyperactivity (OR 0.71, 95% CI 0.54–0.94). These effects remained 30 in fully adjusted models. Girls were less likely to have emotional symptoms (OR 0.72, 95% CI 0.51–1.01) and peer problems (OR 0.68, 95% CI 0.52–0.92) compared with those born to abstainers. These effects were attenuated in fully adjusted models. Boys born to light drinkers had higher cognitive ability test scores [standard\ud 35 deviations, (95% CI)] BAS 0.15 (0.08–0.23) BSRA 0.24 (0.16–0.32) compared with boys born to abstainers. The difference for BAS was attenuated on adjustment for socio-economic factors, whilst the difference for BSRA remained statistically significant.\ud Conclusions\ud Children born to mothers who drank up to 1–2 drinks per week or per occasion during pregnancy were not at increased risk of clinically relevant behavioural difficulties or cognitive deficits compared with children of abstinent mothers. Heavy drinking 5 during pregnancy appears to be associated with behavioural problems and cognitive deficits in offspring at age 3 years whereas light drinking does not

Topics: RG, RJ
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. 36- and 48-month neurobehavioral follow-up of children prenatally exposed to marijuana, cigarettes, and alcohol. doi
  2. A European concerted action: maternal alcohol consumption and its relation to
  3. Alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy comparing doi
  4. Alcohol use in pregnancy: inadequate recommendations for an increasing problem. doi
  5. Autti-Ra ¨mo ¨ I. Foetal alcohol syndrome – doi
  6. Bracken School Readiness Assessment, Administrators Manual. doi
  7. Child behaviour and cognitive development. In: Hansen K, Joshi H (eds). Millennium Cohort Study Second Survey: A User’s Guide to Initial Findings. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies,
  8. (2005). Children of the 21st Century: From Birth to 9 months. doi
  9. (2008). Clinical Guideline 62. Antenatal Care: Routine Care for the Healthy Pregnant Woman doi
  10. Common emotional and behavioral disordersinpreschoolchildren:presentation, nosology,and epidemiology. doi
  11. (1990). Comparison of 7-day retrospective alcohol consumption diaries in a female population in Perth, Western Australiamethodological issues. doi
  12. concurrent and retrospective reports. Alcohol Clin Exp Res doi
  13. Drinking moderately and pregnancy. Effects on child development.
  14. (2007). Early Hum Dev
  15. (2002). Effects of marital conflict on children: recent advances and emerging themes in process-oriented research. doi
  16. (1994). Effects of moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy on child development at 18 and 42 months. Alcohol Clin Exp Res doi
  17. emotional problems at 4 years. Report from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. doi
  18. (2006). from early childhood to preadolescence. A prospective cohort study of 3-12-year-old children. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry doi
  19. (2005). impulsivity on social and academic development: a review. doi
  20. (1998). in 7-year-olds prenatally exposed to alcohol. Alcohol Clin Exp Res
  21. (2005). Infant Feeding Survey
  22. (1989). IQ at age 4 in relation to maternal alcohol use and smoking during pregnancy. Dev Psychol doi
  23. (2002). KesslerRC,AndrewsG,ColpeLJetal.Shortscreeningscales to monitor population prevalences and trends in nonspecific psychological distress. Psychol Med
  24. (2006). London: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, doi
  25. Low level alcohol consumption and the fetus. Abstinence from alcohol is the only safe message in pregnancy.
  26. Maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy may delay the LIGHT DRINKING IN PREGNANCY 11development of spontaneous fetal startle behaviour. doi
  27. Maternal antenatal anxiety and children’s behavioural/ doi
  28. Maternal lifestyle factors in pregnancy risk of attention deficit hyperactivity doi
  29. Maternal smoking during pregnancy and psychiatric adjustment doi
  30. Maternal smoking during pregnancy and psychopathology in offspring followed to adulthood. JA m Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 1999;38:892–99. doi
  31. (2002). Med Child Neurol doi
  32. Moderate prenatal alcohol exposure: effects on child IQ and learning problems at age 7 years. Alcohol Clin Exp Res doi
  33. (1992). month follow-up of children prenatally exposed to marijuana, cigarettes, and alcohol: cognitive and language assessment. doi
  34. OF EPIDEMIOLOGYdisorder and associated behaviors: review of the current evidence.
  35. of maternal report of prenatal alcohol, cocaine, and smoking in relation to neurobehavioral outcome. Pediatrics doi
  36. (2007). on behalf of the ETHINC team. Ethnic differences in childhood cognitive development: findings from the Millennium Cohort Study.
  37. Parent-Child Relationship Scale.
  38. (1973). Pattern of malformation in offspring of chronic alcoholic mothers. Lancet doi
  39. Prenatal alcohol exposure and attention, learning and intellectual ability at 14 years: a prospective long-
  40. (2001). Prenatal alcohol exposure and childhood behavior at age 6 to 7 years: I. Dose-response effect. Pediatrics doi
  41. prenatal alcohol exposure and childhood externalising problems.
  42. (2007). Prenatal alcohol exposure and gender differences in childhood mental health problems: a longitudinal population-based study. Pediatrics doi
  43. (1999). Prenatal alcohol use and offspring size at 10 years of age. Alcohol Clin Exp Res doi
  44. Psychometric properties of the strengths and difficulties questionnaire. doi
  45. (1998). Relation of maternal age and pattern of pregnancy drinking to functionally significant cognitive deficit in infancy. Alcohol Clin Exp Res doi
  46. Report to the Department of Health:
  47. (1991). Reported social alcohol consumption during pregnancy and infants’ development at 18 months. doi
  48. (2006). Review of the Fetal Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure. doi
  49. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Alcohol Consumption and the Outcomes of Pregnancy doi
  50. (2005). School readiness: closing racial and ethnic gaps. Introducing the issue. Future Child
  51. Teratogenic effects of alcohol on brain and behavior. Alcohol Res Health
  52. (2003). The effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on infant mental development: a metaanalytical review. Alcohol Alcohol doi
  53. The impact of preschool inattention,
  54. (1992). the outcome of pregnancy and child development at 18 months. Results – child development at age 18 months. doi
  55. (1997). The strengths and difficulties questionnaire: a research note. doi
  56. Under-reporting of alcohol consumption in household surveys: a comparison of quantity-frequency, graduated-frequency and recent recall. doi
  57. Using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) to screen for child psychiatric disorders in a community sample. doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.