Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) occurs in greater than 5% of infants in the United States, resulting in long-term neurodevelopmental deficits, cognitive impairment, and poor motor control. Impairment in executive functioning, as noted in PAE children, presents as behavioral inflexibility, impaired learning and increased emotional problems. PAE can also increase the risk of placental abnormalities, with women who abuse alcohol during pregnancy having an increased risk of placental dysfunction.
Specifically, women who consume 5 or more alcohol drinks per week have a more than two-fold increased risk of placental abnormalities, including placental vasoconstriction, preeclampsia, placental abruption and placenta previa. Thus, women who consume alcohol during pregnancy are at an increased risk of having an infant with neurodevelopmental deficits secondary to preterm delivery from placental insufficiency, as well as from PAE. The cumulative impact of PAE and placental insufficiency (PI) on neurological outcomes and brain development is not well characterized. Additionally, reduced cognitive flexibility has been found among children following PAE, with poor performance on tests that require complex planning, but the impact of PI remains unknown.