Background Alcohol abuse during pregnancy remains a significant public-health problem. Data from the Georgia Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System suggest that 39% to 46% of women drink one or more alcoholic beverages in the 3 months immediately prior to pregnancy and as many as 13% of women drink during their third trimester. Recent reports have shown that as many as 35% of premature newborns are exposed to alcohol in utero.
Hypothesis We hypothesize that in utero alcohol exposure increases the risk of infection in the premature newborn. The purpose of this study is to investigate the effects of maternal alcohol consumption on the risk of sepsis in low birth weight infants (< 1500 g).
Methods We administered a Maternal Lifestyle Survey to the Mothers of infants < 1500 g born at Grady Memorial Hospital (GMH) between 2/03 and 7/03. GMH is an inner-city, public hospital in Atlanta, GA. The survey included questions on alcohol use prior to and during pregnancy and the use of drugs of abuse and tobacco. We then reviewed the charts of these babies for episodes of sepsis, defined as a confirmed positive blood culture. This study was approved by the IRB at Emory University.
Summary of Results Thus far 21 babies have been enrolled in the study. Of these, 11 (52%) were alcohol exposed in utero. Alcohol consumption ranged from 1 to 3 drinks a week in the first trimester. None of the alcohol or non-alcohol drinking mothers reported using any other drugs of abuse during their pregnancy. The birth weight (nonexposed 1065 ± 208 g vs exposed 1090 ± 212 g) and gestational age (nonexposed 28 ± 1.27 wks vs exposed 29.2 ± 2.1 wks) were similar between the groups. The alcohol exposed babies had > 3 times as many positive blood cultures that the non-alcohol exposed babies (nonexposed 7% (2 of 29) vs exposed 25% (14 of 55). Chi-square test showed p value = NS.
Conclusions Our data show a high rate of alcohol consumption among pregnant women who delivered at GMH. This is consistent with rates of alcohol use in the state of Georgia. Although preliminary, this study suggests that alcohol increases the risk of premature babies to infection. Further prospective investigation into the effects of in utero alcohol exposure on the risk of neonatal infection is warranted.