16 Citations (Scopus)
107 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Systematic reviews of prenatal alcohol exposure effects generally only include conventional observational studies. However, estimates from such studies areprone to confounding and other biases.

Objectives: To systematically review the evidence on the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and observational designs using alternative analytical approaches to improve causal inference.

Search strategy: Medline, Embase, Web of Science, PsychINFO from inception to 21 June 2018. Manual searches of reference lists of retrieved papers.

Selection criteria: RCTs of interventions to stop/reduce drinking in pregnancy and observational studies using alternative analytical methods (quasi-experimental studies e.g. Mendelian randomization and natural experiments, negative control comparisons) to determine the causal effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on pregnancy and longer-term offspring outcomes in human studies.

Data collection and analysis: One reviewer extracted data and another checked extracted data. Risk of bias was assessed using customized risk of bias tools. A narrative synthesis of findings was carried out and a meta-analysis for one outcome.

Main results: Twenty-three studies were included, representing five types of study design, including 1 RCT, 9 Mendelian randomization and 7 natural experiment studies, and reporting on over 30 outcomes. One study design–outcome combination included enough independent results to meta-analyse. Based on evidence from several studies, we found a likely causal detrimental role of prenatal alcohol exposure on cognitive outcomes, and weaker evidence for a role in low birthweight.

Conclusion: None of the included studies was judged to be at low risk of bias in all domains, results should therefore be interpreted with caution.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberdyz272
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2020

Structured keywords

  • ECON CEPS Health
  • ECON Applied Economics
  • HEB
  • NIHR ARC West


  • alcohol
  • pregnancy
  • prenatal alcohol exposure
  • systematic review
  • quasi-experimental studies
  • negative control
  • Mendelian randomization
  • causal inference
  • neurodevelopment
  • FASD


Dive into the research topics of 'Evidence of detrimental effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on offspring birthweight and neurodevelopment from a systematic review of quasi-experimental studies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this