Women Who Drink Around Conception More Likely to Have Obese Children

By McCarton Ackerman 08/07/15

Consuming the equivalent of five alcoholic drinks around conception can alter the development of the fetus.

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It’s no secret that drinking can increase the chances of becoming soft around the midsection, but that increased risk of becoming heavy even carries over to babies whose mothers drank alcohol around the time they became pregnant.

That’s according to a new study out of the University of Queensland in Australia and published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Researchers experimented with lab rats and fed one group a diet containing alcohol from four days before conception until four days’ gestation. The other group of rats received a diet that was similar in calories, but didn’t contain alcohol.

The scientists found that consuming the equivalent of five alcoholic drinks around the time of conception altered the development of the fetus. Children whose mothers drank during conception were also more likely to become obese and develop Type 2 diabetes in middle age.

“The usual risk factors of these two diseases are attributed to poor diet and lack of exercise, but our research showed exposure to alcohol around conception presents a risk similar to following a high-fat diet for a major proportion of life,” said lead researcher Dr. Karen Moritz. “Before the egg implants, before any organs start to develop, alcohol consumption somehow causes changes to the embryo."

Moritz said the next phase of the project is to lessen obesity-causing effects of alcohol on these children, which may involve giving the expecting mother some type of nutrient to minimize the changes.

But for those mothers who regularly drink alcohol during their pregnancy, the consequences may extend far beyond physical damage towards their baby. Last April, North Carolina added themselves to a growing list of states that criminalize pregnant women who use drugs if they don’t seek treatment, even punishing them with jail time in some instances.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.