What you do or don’t do when you’re pregnant may have implications for your child’s health. A set of new studies reinforces some things you probably already knew, and reveals some things you didn’t.
- Children whose mothers drank alcohol have academic difficulties, even as long as 16 years later, according to a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
- Children whose mothers took supplemental DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, do not have higher IQs than children whose mothers didn’t take DHA supplements, according to a research letter published in the JAMA Network.
- There’s no benefit to children when their mothers are treated for mildly low thyroid function while they’re pregnant, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Drinking while pregnant
Most people know pregnant women increase health risks for their babies when they drink alcohol. The new study in Alcoholism ties the risk to how well these children perform in school.
The results are clear and stark.
“The alcohol-exposed children performed significantly worse than their peers in all academic areas, with particular weaknesses found in math performance,” the authors wrote.
Researchers studied children ages 8 to 16, analyzing their academic scores and, in some cases, examining brain images to compare development of the children’s brains. Children whose mothers drank during pregnancy didn’t show the typical pattern of smaller brain surface areas that were shown in children’s whose mothers didn’t drink.
The findings “highlight the need for additional attention and support for these children,” the authors wrote.
Taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy
The JAMA Network study was a seven-year follow-up of earlier research into the effects on children of DHA supplements taken by their mothers while they were pregnant.
In a nutshell, a mom who takes fish oil supplements while she is pregnant does nothing to help her child become smarter.
Earlier, researchers said they found no benefit in cognition, language and motor development when the children were 18 months old, and no benefit in intelligence, language and executive functioning when the children were 4.
The latest study produced the same findings when the kids were 7. Researchers found no differences in IQ, language, academic and executive functioning.
Interestingly, the authors note, parents in the group in which pregnant women took DHA supplements “reported more behavior problems” than the group in which women took no supplements.
Thyroid treatments while pregnant
Pregnant women with low thyroid function have been known to be more likely to miscarry or to have children with impaired development. Some studies have found that even mildly low thyroid function, known as subclinical hypothyroidism, may affect a newborn’s development and increase the risk of birth complications.
But a large, long-term study conducted by researchers in the National Institutes of Health network found no difference in development between children born to mothers who treated their mildly low thyroid function and those who didn’t.
As a result, the authors say it’s not necessary to treat women for this condition.
“Our results do not support routine thyroid screening in pregnancy since treatment did not improve maternal or infant outcomes,” said Uma Reddy, M.D., author of the study.