When I was carrying my second child, I have to admit I snuck in a glass of wine or two towards the end of my pregnancy—and I did so with my doctor's blessing.
Now, though, comes a new study that finds if you drink alcohol during pregnancy, even a little bit, you may be increasing the chance that your next three generations will develop alcoholism.
Using rats, a Binghamton University research team, led by assistant professor of psychology Nicole Cameron, investigated the effects of wine consumption during pregnancy on alcohol-related behavior in generations not directly exposed in utero.
Here's how it all went down: Pregnant rats received the equivalent of one glass of wine, four days in a row, at gestational days 17, 18, 19, and 20 (the equivalent of the second trimester in humans). Juvenile male and female offspring were then tested for water or alcohol consumption, and adolescent males were tested for sensitivity to alcohol.
The researchers found that when a mother consumes the equivalent of one glass of wine four times during the pregnancy, her offspring (and grand-offspring) showed an increased preference for and less sensitivity to alcohol. "Thus, the offspring are more likely to develop alcoholism," said Cameron, who added that this is the first study to demonstrate trans-generational effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Whoa! These findings are pretty major, if a little difficult to wrap your head around. Could the glass of wine you drink while preggers really affect, say, your daughter's daughter? Maybe. But while past studies have investigated the effects of exposure during pregnancy, none have examined alcohol-related behaviors over multiple generations.
The good news? Cameron and her team recently received a grant to continue their work. "We now need to identify how this effect is passed through multiple generations by investigating the effects alcohol has on the genome and epigenome (molecules that control gene translation)," she said.
In the meantime, if you're pregnant, it's a good idea to abstain from drinking altogether.