New study: Pregnancy no reason to avoid light drinking

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Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been an issue of concern for several decades. It s well known that heavy drinking can have severe effects on the fetus, resulting in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome a constellation of effects that can include mental retardation as well as facial and other abnormalities. Because of concerns about such problems, pregnant women have been advised to avoid alcohol completely. However, a recent study in the UK indicates that light consumption of alcohol by pregnant women has no deleterious effects on the child at seven years of age.

Researchers from University College London analyzed data obtained on approximately 10,530 7-year-olds who participated in a national study of infants born in the UK between 2000 and 2002. Parents and teachers provided information on social and emotional behavior, and the children were tested for performance in math, reading, and spatial skills.

These data on children were then correlated with mothers reported alcohol consumption during pregnancy. In particular, the focus was on children whose mothers reported light drinking versus those who said they had abstained from alcohol. Light drinking was defined as consuming one or two units of alcohol per week (a unit would be a half-pint of 3.5% beer, 175 cc of 12% wine, or 25 cc of 40% distilled spirits).

Compared to children of abstainers, the children of light drinkers had no behavioral or cognitive deficits. There were trends towards the children of light drinkers having fewer behavioral problems and higher cognitive skills than the kids of abstainers, but these differences weren t statistically significant.

Professor Yvonne Kelly, one of the co-authors of the study commented There appears to be no increased risk of negative impacts of light drinking in pregnancy on behavioural or cognitive development in 7-year-old children.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava adds This study should provide reassurance to pregnant women that enjoyment of an occasional glass of an alcohol-containing beverage will not harm their babies.