Asking Questions about Alcohol in Pregnancy (AQUA)

Why the AQUA study?

Women are told not to drink during pregnancy to protect their babies. But can the occasional glass of wine hurt? And what if a woman has already had a drink before knowing she is pregnant? The Institute is seeking to answer these questions through the AQUA study.

Currently we don't know how much alcohol pregnant women can safely drink without harming the developing baby, so avoiding alcohol entirely is the best option. The lack of knowledge in this area has the potential to cause anxiety for women who drink even small amounts of alcohol before realising they are pregnant. This also creates problems for doctors and midwives about how to best advise women.

Through their involvement in this research project, participants will help researchers find out whether low or moderate alcohol drinking during pregnancy adversely affects early childhood health and development. In the future this information may be useful for women planning to get pregnant, pregnant women, and the health professionals who provide maternity care.

What does the AQUA study involve?

AQUA researchers have collected detailed information about alcohol consumption during pregnancy from nearly 1,600 pregnant women to assess the impact of different amounts of alcohol on the unborn child. This has been compiled through three questionnaires, one in each trimester of pregnancy. The team has also collected information on factors that might influence the effects of alcohol such as diet, medication and body size.

Women participating in the AQUA study also completed a questionnaire about the health and development of their baby, when their baby was one year old. Some participants were also invited to have a 3D photo of their baby's face and head taken at this age. The same group of participants is being invited to bring their child for a developmental assessment at two years of age.

Aims of AQUA

The research aims to collect detailed information about alcohol consumption in pregnancy from a large group of pregnant women and to assess the effect of different doses of alcohol and other associated influences on the unborn child.

The specific aims of this project are to find out whether:

  • Low to moderate quantities of alcohol at various stages of pregnancy are associated with problems in the health and development of young children at birth and at one to two years of age and;
  • Maternal DNA variations, specific dietary factors or other environmental influences can affect the impact of low to moderate quantities of alcohol in pregnancy.

Who are our research participants?

Our participants are women who attended an antenatal clinic in 2011 or 2012 at the Mercy Hospital for Women, Royal Women's Hospital, Monash Medical Centre, Dandenong Hospital, Casey Hospital or Box Hill Hospital, who were at the time of enrolment:

  • less than 19 weeks pregnant with a single baby
  • at least 16 years of age
  • able to speak, read and write in English*
  • able to provide informed consent

* We are not funded to translate our questionnaires into other languages.

What are our participants doing?

Participants in this study completed a questionnaire (by mail, internet or telephone) at three stages during pregnancy (at less than 19 weeks, about 26 weeks and then about 36 weeks of pregnancy) and another one year after the child's birth. These surveys included questions about pregnancy and conception, general health and lifestyle, drinking habits, diet during pregnancy and the child's early development.

When children are two years old, participants will be invited to continue their involvement in the study by completing a further questionnaire about their child's development.

For more information about the questionnaires please click here.

Optional extras

  • Biological samples
  • Birth data
  • 3D photos
  • Developmental assessments

Participation in this study also involves the following optional aspects:

  • Providing a cheek swab (from women and their baby). Cheek cells will be tested for a single gene variation that may have previously been associated with alcohol metabolism (in exon 9 of the ADH1B gene).
  • Allowing researchers to collect a blood and tissue sample (eg from the placenta) after birth. This will be used to determine the level of methylation in specific regions of DNA thought to be affected by alcohol exposure (eg the IGF2 gene and H19 gene loci).
  • Allowing researchers to collect some pregnancy and birth information from hospital records, such as obstetric complications, baby's birth weight and the gestational age at delivery.
  • Attending the Royal Children's Hospital for 3D photography of the child's face at age one
  • Attending the Royal Children's Hospital for a developmental assessment of their child at two years of age