Association Between Prenatal Exposure to Alcohol and Tobacco and Neonatal Brain Activity: Results From the Safe Passage Study

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Importance: Research to date has not determined a safe level of alcohol or tobacco use during pregnancy. Electroencephalography (EEG) is a noninvasive measure of cortical function that has previously been used to examine effects of in utero exposures and associations with neurodevelopment. Objective: To examine the association of prenatal exposure to alcohol (PAE) and tobacco smoking (PTE) with brain activity in newborns. Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective cohort study enrolled mother-newborn dyads from December 2011 through August 2015, with data analyzed from June 2018 through June 2019. Pregnant women were recruited from clinical sites in Cape Town, South Africa, and the Northern Plains region of the US. Participants were a subset of newborns enrolled in the Safe Passage Study. Exclusions included birth at less than 37 or more than 41 weeks' gestation, multiple birth, or maternal use of psychiatric medication during pregnancy. Exposures: PAE and PTE groups were determined by cluster analysis. Main Outcomes and Measures: Analyses of covariance were run on EEG spectral power at 12 scalp locations across the frequency spectrum from 1 to 45 Hz in 3-Hz bins by sleep state. Results: The final sample consisted of 1739 newborns (median [interquartile range] gestational age at birth, 39.29 [1.57] weeks; 886 [50.9%] were female; median [interquartile range] newborn age at assessment, 48.53 [44.96] hours). Newborns whose mothers were in the low continuous (95% CI, -0.379 to -0.031; P < .05; 95% CI, -0.379 to -0.045; P < .05), quit (95% CI, -0.419 to -0.127; P < .001; 95% CI, -0.398 to -0.106; P < .005), and moderate or high continuous (95% CI, -0.430 to -0.124; P < .001; 95% CI, -0.420 to -0.119; P < .005) PAE clusters had increased 4- to 6-Hz and 7- to 9-Hz left-temporal EEG power. Newborns with moderate or high continuous PTE had decreased 19- to 21-Hz (95% CI, 0.034 to 0.327; P < .05) and 22- to 24-Hz (95% CI, 0.022 to 0.316; P < .05) right-central EEG compared with newborns with no PTE. Newborns with moderate or high continuous PTE had significantly decreased 22- to 36-Hz right-central EEG power compared with the quit smoking group (22-24 Hz, 95% CI, 0.001 to 0.579; P < .05; 25-27 Hz, 95% CI, 0.008 to 0.586; P < .05; 28-30 Hz, 95% CI, 0.028 to 0.607; P < .05; 31-33 Hz, 95% CI, 0.038 to 0.617; P < .05; 34-36 Hz, 95% CI, 0.057 to 0.636; P < .05). Conclusions and Relevance: These findings suggest that even low levels of PAE or PTE are associated with changes in offspring brain development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e204714
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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