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Three previous studies suggested a link between the presence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and stillbirth, but this is the first to show how the cause of the problem can be overcome.
A study in Norway showed that young fathers whose first job was with a brewery – who were not covered by FASD prevention programmes – were less likely to have a stillbirth.
These men were tested at the women’s monthly antenatal visit.
The researcher said other factors should also be considered.
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and was carried out by experts from the University of Oslo in Norway and the University of North Carolina.
The team analysed data from the parents of 3,157 first-time mothers with irregular pregnancies who had given birth at ORF, Norway’s major referral hospital.
They used the Multi-Disciplinary Neonatal Evaluation Programme, which provides care to the children of women who have had major complications during pregnancy.
The data is based on 2,510 stillbirths.
Reasons for the sudden death in many cases was unexplained and was found to account for one third of all stillbirths.
And some 7% of all stillbirths were intentional.
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There was a link between stillbirths and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
But this was also linked to other factors, including the age of the father and whether he had been treated at a clinic for alcoholism or substance dependence.
“This study clearly shows that policy changes to address alcohol abuse in men are of major importance when it comes to reducing stillbirths,” said co-author professor Ranjana Bhatia.
One of the key findings was that those men with an unemployed status, high energy level, tendency to use alcohol or illegal drugs and poor health during pregnancy had a lower risk of stillbirth than their stable partners.
But they could not prove that these factors explained the apparent link between the prenatal exposure to alcohol or the foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and stillbirth.
The main reason these factors were not taken into account is that the study included many women who had given birth through C-section.
The team wrote: “Further analyses of women with a C-section history would better highlight the associations between alcohol use, unemployment, and other traits associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.”
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FASD is a long-term condition that affects brain development and result in learning difficulties in children and adults.
It is one of the most common chronic diseases among young people in the US and the UK.
In the UK, 3,183 stillbirths were recorded in 2016, with 525 stillbirths, predominantly caused by stillbirth, among mothers who were carriers of the FASD gene, according to the National Childbirth Trust.
Prof Edward Penman, an expert in maternal mental health at the University of Missouri, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the study might be encouraging.
“It suggests if we can reduce alcohol use we can significantly increase the numbers of pregnancies that have a low or no risk of stillbirth,” he said.
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Fathers will be affected more because research so far has shown that FASD affects mainly children of mothers who are drunk when they have their first baby.
That, said Prof Penman, made the impact even more significant.
“So if we are trying to prevent FASD from starting, it turns out that we need to take action immediately prior to mother giving birth so that we can prevent FASD”, he said.