Light Drinking During Pregnancy May Not Affect Baby's Health, Study Finds

Light drinking in pregnancy 'unlikely' to harm babies, but experts caution lack of evidence

The new research review, published by BMJ Open, examined 26 existing studies on the effects of light drinking - up to four units a week - during pregnancy, and found little evidence that it caused harm to unborn babies.

Researchers found very little evidence that light drinking in pregnancy causes harm to babies, including birth defects, developmental delay, behavioural problems and impaired intelligence.

This concern remains of vast public health importance, say the researchers, as up to 80% of mums-to-be in Australia, New Zealand, UK, and Ireland consume alcohol while they are pregnant.

The new paper included a systematic review and analysis of previous studies on low alcohol consumption and pregnancy that were published between 1950 and July 2016.

Plus, many women may drink alcohol before they find out they're pregnant.

Still, he said, "the message from the March of Dimes is: Don't drink alcohol if you're pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant". In reality, women must be informed of the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, but this must be done strategically.

The review underlined that drinking four units of alcohol a week was associated with a 10 percent increase in the risk of premature birth.

The researchers said there was insufficient data to "make robust conclusions", adding that evidence on the effects of light drinking was "sparse".

It also highlights the failure of researchers so far to focus on "light" drinking versus no drinking, rather than just on moderate and heavy drinking. However, there was no overwhelming evidence of harm.

There is no proven "safe" amount that women can drink while pregnant, although there is plenty of evidence on the risky risks of heavy drinking.

"Formulating guidance on the basis of the current evidence is challenging", the researchers mused, which is a delicate way of saying "It's impossible to say one way or another". "The distinction between light drinking and abstinence is indeed the point of most tension and confusion for health professionals and pregnant women". Therefore, all doctors tell women to avoid drinking high units of alcohol.

As there is no clear advice on whether pregnant women can drink, there is no established safe limit on the amount of units they can consume. "It is most likely low on the basis of the information we now have, but you can't be promised that and you don't know that". The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that there is "no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy".

For example, a 2013 study from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, also published in BMJ Open, followed 6,915 children whose mothers had between none to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy. "However, the findings should also caution us not to create a situation where mothers-to-be are made more anxious, or subject to unnecessary moral judgement, on the issue of very light alcohol consumption".

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