Newborn babies in Scotland are being tested for alcohol after researchers raised concerns that some pregnant mothers are drinking regularly.
Samples from hundreds of babies born at the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital in Glasgow are being studied for molecules which stay inside unborn children when their mothers drink.
Results from an initial pilot study suggest around 40% of mothers consume some alcohol while pregnant, with about 15% drinking more than one or two small glasses of wine a week.
Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, and the more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk, the Scottish government warns.
Previous research found that even moderate drinking during the earliest months of pregnancy may be damaging.
Funded by Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity, the latest study is to take 750 samples of meconium – the first faeces of a newborn – to look for high levels of alcohol by-products. Mothers will also be asked to complete a lifestyle questionnaire.
The occasional drink will not be highlighted by the study, researchers said.
It is hoped the work will lead to targeted messages and interventions and reduce the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome, a condition where children suffer developmental problems because their mothers drank during pregnancy.
Consultant neonatologist Dr Helen Mactier, who is leading the research, told The Herald newspaper: “Alcohol consumption in pregnancy is almost certainly contributing to a lot of learning disability in Scotland and learning disability is associated with poor school performance and criminality in the long term.”
Dr Mactier said mothers from all walks of life are involved in the study.
She added: “There is an assumption that all problem drinking in pregnancy is associated with poverty and there is no evidence to confirm that. It is much easier to conceal problem drinking if you are affluent and if you are clever.”