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March 24 2010‘P’ babies on same track as crack babies
International researchers have found signs that P babies may be on the same developmental track as crack babies who are more likely to steal and take illicit drugs by their early teens.
A study of nearly 100 New Zealand P babies shows babies exposed to methamphetamine in utero can develop the same neurobehavioural deficits as crack babies.
The worst affected had neurobehavioural profiles almost identical to those of cocaine-exposed babies, who were found in an earlier study to be the most at risk.
That study found babies exposed to cocaine in utero were more likely to start stealing and/or exhibit some kind of psychopathology by age 11, and to smoke tobacco or take illicit drugs by age 14.
Linda LaGasse from Rhode Island's Brown University, US, presented the interim results of the New Zealand arm of the Infant Development Environment and Lifestyle (IDEAL) study at an international conference on infant, toddler and preschool mental in Auckland last month.
There was no increase in medical problems during pregnancy in the mothers who used P during pregnancy and no increase in physical damage, such as cleft lip, among their infants.
However, the 98 newborns exposed to pure methamphetamine in utero showed more signs of stress, poorer movement and lower arousal than 108 matched controls and, at one month, still showed more signs of stress.
There was no significant difference in cognitive development at one year.
Newborn results were similar in the US arm of the trial, where 204 meth-exposed babies and 208 matched controls have been monitored for five-and-a-half years so far.
By age three, the meth-exposed children in the US cohort had no deficits in developmental status, language, motor performance or behavioural problems, compared with the control children.
However, by 5.5 years, the meth-exposed group were showing more externalised behaviour problems, poorer inhibitory control and less ability to practise sustained attention.
Dr LaGasse says the effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure during infancy are smaller than initially feared, but she warns that they may increase with age.
In the study of prenatal cocaine exposure, for example, the effects did not really show up until school age, when cocaine-exposed children show more IQ deficits, special education needs, externalising behaviour and psychopathology, she says.
The US and New Zealand arms of the IDEAL study are continuing and, because of the different healthcare systems in the two countries, offer a unique opportunity to untangle the effects of prenatal drug exposure from the effects of the environment in which a child grows up.
For example, in the US, meth-exposed babies were more likely to be smaller for their gestational age than control babies. This difference did not exist in the New Zealand babies, whose mothers were more likely to receive home healthcare.