Intrepid researchers at the Case Western Reserve University Project Newborn evaluated some 216 samples of meconium (a newborn's first poop), then gave those children IQ tests at ages 9, 11, and 15. Based on the data, they discovered a link between kids with high levels of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE) in their first stool and a lower IQ score. Elevated FAEE is common in children whose moms drank during pregnancy.
Armed with this new knowledge, doctors may be able to better detect prenatal alcohol exposure and enlist early interventions to help with a child's developmental issues, says Meeyoung O. Min, Ph.D., the study's lead researcher and research assistant professor at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western University.
The findings were published in the April 2015 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.
This study has very real implications: Sadly, 2 to 5 percent of school-age children in the U.S. and Western Europe struggle with developmental disabilities after being exposed to alcohol in the womb. Of the 191 mothers involved in the Project Newborn study, 60 percent said they drank an average of 6.5 "standard drinks" while pregnant (defined as 0.5 ounces of alcohol). Meanwhile, 15 moms reported having at least 12 drinks a week.
The reluctance to admit to boozing it up during pregnancy is real; after all, no drinking is right up there with no smoking, no drugs, and no unpasteurized cheese as Things You Should Avoid for the Next Nine Months. But thankfully, now that the FAEE link has been confirmed, it will no longer prevent doctors from directing help to the children who need it.
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