A newborn’s first stool can alert doctors if they are at risk for problems with intelligence and reasoning in later life, according to a new study.
Researchers from Case Western Reserve University said that high levels of fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE) found in the meconium (a newborn’s first stool) from a mother’s alcohol use during pregnancy can tell if a child is at risk for problems with intelligence and reasoning.
“We wanted to see if there was a connection between FAEE level and their cognitive development during childhood and adolescence – and there was,” said Meeyoung O Min, research assistant professor at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and the study’s lead researcher.
“FAEE can serve as a marker for foetal alcohol exposure and developmental issues ahead,” Min said.
Detecting prenatal exposure to alcohol at birth could lead to early interventions that help reduce the effects later, Min said.
The research is part of the ongoing Project Newborn study, a longitudinal research project funded by the US National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse that has followed the physical, social and cognitive developments of babies born to mothers who used cocaine, alcohol and other drugs during their pregnancies.
Project Newborn has studied nearly 400 children for 20 years since their births in the mid-1990s.
For this study, researchers analysed the meconium of 216 subjects for levels of FAEE.
FAEE are composed of a group of products from metabolising alcohol; this study examined ethyl myristate, ethyl oleate ethyl linoleate and ethyl linolenate.
Researchers gave intelligence tests at ages 9, 11 and 15. They found that there was a link between those with high levels of FAEE at birth and lower IQ scores.
“Although we already knew a mother’s alcohol use during her pregnancy may cause cognitive deficits, what is significant is that the early marker, not previously available, predicted this, establishing the predictive validity of FAEEs for determining alcohol exposure in utero,” Min said.