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Study protocol: Asking QUestions about Alcohol in pregnancy (AQUA): a longitudinal cohort study of fetal effects of low to moderate alcohol exposure

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posted on 2024-04-11, 05:42 authored by E Muggli, C O'Leary, Della ForsterDella Forster, P Anderson, S Lewis, C Nagle, JM Craig, S Donath, E Elliott, J Halliday
Background: Despite extensive research, a direct correlation between low to moderate prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders has been elusive. Conflicting results are attributed to a lack of accurate and detailed data on PAE and incomplete information on contributing factors. The public health effectiveness of policies recommending complete abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy is challenged by the high frequency of unplanned pregnancies, where many women consumed some alcohol prior to pregnancy recognition. There is a need for research evidence emphasizing timing and dosage of PAE and its effects on child development.Methods/Design: Asking QUestions about Alcohol (AQUA) is a longitudinal cohort aiming to clarify the complex effects of low to moderate PAE using specifically developed and tested questions incorporating dose, pattern and timing of exposure. From 2011, 2146 pregnant women completed a questionnaire at 8-18 weeks of pregnancy. Further prenatal data collection took place via a questionnaire at 26-28 weeks and 35 weeks gestation. Extensive information was obtained on a large number of risk factors to assist in understanding the heterogeneous nature of PAE effects. 1571 women (73%) completed all three pregnancy questionnaires. A biobank of DNA from maternal and infant buccal cells, placental biopsies and cord blood mononuclear cells will be used to examine epigenetic state at birth as well as genetic factors in the mother and child. Participants will be followed up at 12 and 24 months after birth to assess child health and measure infant behavioural and sensory difficulties, as well as family environment and parenting styles. A subgroup of the cohort will have 3D facial photography of their child at 12 months and a comprehensive developmental assessment (Bayley Scales of Infant & Toddler Development, Bayley-III) at two years of age. Discussion: Using detailed, prospective methods of data collection, the AQUA study will comprehensively examine the effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption throughout pregnancy on child health and development, including the role of key mediators and confounders. These data will ultimately contribute to policy review and development, health professional education and information about alcohol consumption for pregnant women in the future.


This work is supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (#1011070, 2011-2014) and the Victorian State Government’s Operational Infrastructure Support Program. The study has also received funding from the McCusker Charitable Trust to assist with the biospecimen collection at birth; the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute to identify maternal candidate genes; and the Jack Brockhoff Foundation to pilot genome wide methylation data. EE is supported by a Practitioner Fellowship (No. 1021480) from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.


Publication Date



BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth



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BioMed Central



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© 2014 Muggli et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.