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Is Light Drinking OK During Pregnancy? Research Finds No Negative Impact

Danish investigation found mothers who drank up to six glasses per week had children just as intelligent and well-developed as those of abstaining mothers

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: July 24, 2012

Five comprehensive studies coordinated by Aarhus University in Denmark have found no evidence of adverse effects from low and moderate alcohol consumption by women during pregnancy. The research, reported in the British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that children whose mothers drank moderately during pregnancy fared just as well as other kids in intelligence and emotional tests. Despite the findings, the authors were quick to caution that they still recommend women avoid alcohol while pregnant.

Heavy alcohol use is a major risk factor for neurodevelopment deficits and lifelong disability in unborn children. But a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control noted that more than 14 percent of pregnant middle-aged women surveyed said that they drank alcohol while pregnant.

Ulrik Schiøler Kesmodel, a gynecologist and public health epidemiologist at the university and lead author of one of the studies, said a lack of clear guidance concerning alcohol might stress pregnant women who may feel unnecessarily guilty after having a few drinks. "Now we have scientific evidence which may set their minds at ease," Kesmodel told Wine Spectator.

The study authors said this is the first time medical researchers performed such a coordinated and varied examination into the impact of prenatal drinking. The results are based on intelligence tests of 1,628 Danish children, matched to their mothers' self-reported alcohol questionnaires. In one study, the children were examined clinically and then participated in five verbal tests and five performance tests. In another study, the tests instead focused on the behavior of the child alone and among peers.

According to each of the studies, the children born to mothers who consumed one to six alcohol units per week were just as intelligent and well-developed as the children of abstaining mothers. (One unit is roughly equivalent to a 5-ounce glass of wine, though alcohol contents will vary.)

As for women who reported the occasional binge session, up to five drinks in a sitting, their children also performed as well on intelligence tests. But these women were not in the habit of regular drinking, the studies noted. Another study noted a negative impact on children's attention span in cases where a mother drank nine or more drinks per week.

The authors were quick to note that abstaining from alcohol remains the best option for pregnant women as there remains no proven, safe limit. "The Danish Health and Medicines Authority recommends pregnant women to abstain completely from alcohol consumption, but we know from other studies that about half of the pregnant women do not entirely stay away from alcohol during pregnancy," read the report.

"Pregnant women should not drink a certain amount of alcohol, as alcohol is not likely to be beneficial during pregnancy," Kesmodel told Wine Spectator. "However, we also believe that our present study suggests that small amounts consumed occasionally may not present serious concern."

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