(HealthDay News) — Women who consume alcohol before pregnancy and during the first two trimesters are at increased risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes, according to research published online March 10 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Camilla Nykjaer, of the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, and colleagues analyzed data for a prospective cohort of 1,303 pregnant women, aged 18–45 years, to assess the association between alcohol intake and birth outcomes.

The researchers found that, before pregnancy, nearly two-thirds of women, and during the first trimester of pregnancy, over half of women reported alcohol intake above the U.K. Department of Health recommended guideline of ≤2 units of alcohol per week. Compared with non-drinkers, women who drank >2 units of alcohol per week before pregnancy and in the first and second trimesters were at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as lower birth weight, lower birth centile, and preterm birth. During the first trimester, even women who drank ≤2 units of alcohol per week had a significantly increased risk of adverse birth outcomes compared with non-drinkers.

“We found the first trimester to be the period most sensitive to the effect of alcohol on the developing fetus,” the authors write. “Our findings suggest that women should be advised to abstain from alcohol when planning to conceive and throughout pregnancy.”

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