Drinking During Pregnancy May Put Your Grandkids at Risk

A new study suggests drinking during pregnancy may create a harmful effect that lasts more than one generation—and this isn't the first one to find a link.

Pregnant Woman Alcohol Michal Staniewski/Shutterstock
You know that if you choose to drink during pregnancy, you may be putting your baby at risk. But did you know your grandkids may also be affected? According to a new study, the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy may be multi-generational.

This research comes from the University of California, Riverside and is based on the observation of mice. The findings, which appear in Cerebral Cortex, suggest that when a woman drinks, her grandchildren and even great-grandchildren may face developmental issues down the road.

The researchers generated a mouse model to observe the way prenatal alcohol exposure manifested itself among three generations. As expected, the offspring of the mice who consumed alcohol showed effects—including atypical gene expression, abnormal neural development and behavioral issues—but this finding is a bit more surprising: The researchers also found that subsequent generations showed similar issues, even if they weren't directly exposed to alcohol during gestation. Crazy, right?

"Traditionally, prenatal ethanol exposure (PrEE) from maternal consumption of alcohol, was thought to solely impact directly exposed offspring, the embryo or fetus in the womb. However, we now have evidence that the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure could persist transgenerationally and negatively impact the next generations of offspring who were never exposed to alcohol," researcher Kelly Huffman, a professor at the university said, according to a release. "We found that body weight and brain size were significantly reduced in all generations of PrEE animals when compared to controls; all generations of PrEE mice showed increased anxiety-like, depressive-like behaviors and sensory-motor deficits. By demonstrating the strong transgenerational effects of prenatal ethanol exposure in a mouse model of FASD, we suggest that FASD may be a heritable condition in humans."

As surprising as these findings may be, this isn't the first study to link maternal alcohol consumption to multi-generational effects. As we've previously reported, researchers have also found reason to believe fetal alcohol exposure may lead to increased preference for and sensitivity towards alcohol among their grandchildren. We'll need more research in order to really understand how this all works, but for now, we can stand by what we've been saying: There's no known amount of alcohol that's safe to consume while pregnant—and if these findings are any indication, we may not even be aware of all the ways in which it can affect your family.