A new study, led by an Indian researcher, has suggested that women who drink alcohol during pregnancy put their babies at risk of developing autism.
Raja Mukherjee, a consultant psychiatrist at Surrey Borders Partnership NHS trust, earlier found that drinking while pregnant can give babies a condition called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
He has now come up with his latest finding suggesting that the consumption of alcohol by expecting mothers can also cause autism.
This is the first research to cite that autism may be triggered by the child's mother's alcohol intake during pregnancy.
Mukherjee said that the findings of this study might elevate concerns about the increasing alcohol consumption among women of childbearing age.
For the past 18 months, Mukherjee was examining children who have been damaged by their mother's drinking during pregnancy and discovered that a high proportion of them have autism.
"Genetic conditions are by far the most common cause of autism but that is not to say that other things cannot cause it, and prenatal alcohol appears, possibly, to be [a cause]. Unlike genetic conditions, this is 100% preventable," Times Online quoted him, as saying.
While the Department of Health noted that more than half of all mothers drink alcohol while pregnant, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence will issue a new warning about the dangers.
The findings of a recent survey suggest that 8 percent of women aged 18 to 24 had consumed at least 35 units of alcohol, i.e. about 15 glasses of wine, during the previous week. Binge drinking among young women has caused number of alcohol-related deaths in women aged 35 to 54 doubling between 1991 and 2005.
The British Medical Association warned earlier this year that the increase in alcohol consumption by young women will be seen in a rise in drinking during pregnancy thereby putting more babies at risk of being damaged by alcohol while in the womb.
In fact, Mukherjee has also warned earlier against any drinking during pregnancy as he thinks that even low levels of alcohol may endanger babies.
Drinking during pregnancy can cause foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which includes disorders ranging from minor anomalies such as low birth weight to severe FAS, the symptoms of which include mental retardation and facial abnormalities such as a short nose.
The findings of this research have been presented at scientific meetings.