ALSPAC: Pregnancy and early childhood
Since its inception in 1991, more than 300 papers relating to ALSPAC have been published. A variety of common disorders and conditions have been investigated using the study - from asthma to food allergies, and autism to dyslexia. A few relating to pregnancy and early childhood are summarised here.
Pregnancy and diet
Among ALSPAC's findings is that mothers who consume less fish during pregnancy have children with significantly lower IQs and impaired ability to focus (ref 1). Similarly, another study revealed that children of mothers who ate more than three portions of seafood a week during pregnancy had better neurological function than children whose mothers ate little or no seafood (ref 2). Seafood is a major source of omega-3 fatty acids - essential for neural development - yet expectant mothers are often advised to limit their consumption, as seafood can contain trace amounts of contaminants.
Pregnancy and depression
Another study using information from ALSPAC found that persistent depression during pregnancy can increase the chance of a child suffering developmental delay (ref 3). While it was well known that postnatal depression can affect child development, little research into so-called antenatal depression had been carried out. In a different study, depression in fathers was found to be associated with adverse emotional and behavioural outcomes in children aged 3.5 years, and an increased risk of conduct problems in boys (ref 4).
Other findings include: girls have more tomboy tendencies if their mothers had high testosterone levels while pregnant (ref 5); children brought up in very hygienic homes are more likely to develop asthma (ref 6); weaning babies onto lumpy foods while less than nine months old leads to fewer eating problems later in life (ref 7); women having their babies by Caesarean section could find it harder to conceive next time (ref 8); and peanut allergies may be linked to the use of certain skin creams (ref 9).
1. Fish intake during pregnancy and early cognitive development of offspring. Daniels JL, Longnecker MP, Rowland AS, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. University of Bristol Institute of Child Health. Epidemiology. 2004 Jul;15(4):394-402.
2. Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood (ALSPAC study): an observational cohort study. Hibbeln JR, Davis JM, Steer C, Emmett P, Rogers I, Williams C, Golding J. Lancet. 2007 Feb 17;369(9561):578-85.
3. Prenatal mood disturbance predicts sleep problems in infancy and toddlerhood. O'Connor TG, Caprariello P, Blackmore ER, Gregory AM, Glover V, Fleming P; ALSPAC Study Team. Early Hum Dev. 2007 Jul;83(7):451-8.
4. The effects of pre- and postnatal depression in fathers: a natural experiment comparing the effects of exposure to depression on offspring. Ramchandani PG, O'Connor TG, Evans J, Heron J, Murray L, Stein A. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2008 Oct;49(10):1069-78.
5. Testosterone during pregnancy and gender role behavior of preschool children: a longitudinal, population study. Hines M, Golombok S, Rust J, Johnston KJ, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. Child Dev. 2002 Nov-Dec;73(6):1678-87.
6. Hygiene levels in a contemporary population cohort are associated with wheezing and atopic eczema in preschool infants. Sherriff A, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. Arch Dis Child. 2002 Jul;87(1):26-9.
7. The effect of age of introduction to lumpy solids on foods eaten and reported feeding difficulties at 6 and 15 months. Northstone K, Emmett P, Nethersole F; ALSPAC Study Team. Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2001 Feb;14(1):43-54.
8. The relationship between Caesarean section and subfertility in a population-based sample of 14 541 pregnancies. Murphy DJ, Stirrat GM, Heron J; ALSPAC Study Team. Hum Reprod. 2002 Jul;17(7):1914-7.
9. Relationship between aeroallergen and food allergen sensitization in childhood. Roberts G, Peckitt C, Northstone K, Strachan D, Lack G, Henderson J, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. Clin Exp Allergy. 2005 Jul;35(7):933-40.