Light drinking during pregnancy does not harm baby

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

The study systematically reviewed all the data from a wide range of high quality observational studies on the impact of light drinking - around 32g of alcohol, which works out at three standard drinks in Irish units.

Bristol University researchers who carried out the study said the lack of evidence of harm was not the same as proof that it is fine to drink while pregnant.

Small amounts were defined as one to two United Kingdom units, once or twice a week - the recommended maximum level given in the Department of Health's previous guidance.

"Despite the distinction between light drinking and abstinence being the point of most tension and confusion for health professionals and pregnant women and contributing to inconsistent guidance and advice now and in the past, our extensive review shows that this specific question is not being researched thoroughly enough, if at all".

Carmel Lloyd, head of education at the Royal College of Midwives, said: "We support the view of the research authors and our advice also remains that if you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant then it is better to remove any doubt about the impact of alcohol and not drink it".

Heavy drinking has always been known to harm unborn babies and is linked to birth defects, developmental delay, behavioural problems and impaired intelligence.

But they strongly advised mothers-to-be to avoid alcohol as a precaution.

David Spiegelhalter, professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said: "This valuable and humane study has shown that warnings about the dangers of drinking any alcohol at all during pregnancy are not justified by evidence".

These include miscarriage, premature birth, undersized babies, and longer-term issues, such as the developmental delays, impaired intellect, and behavioural difficulties typical of fetal alcohol syndrome, the study in the "British Medical Journal Open" revealed.

The issue remains of great public health importance because up to 80 percent of moms-to-be in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia drink some alcohol during their pregnancy.

Two units of alcohol being equivalent to one pint of strong beer or a medium size glass (175ml) of light white wine.

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

"In addition, there has been no evidence regarding possible benefits of light alcohol consumption versus abstinence".

But they said while there was an association, this did not prove a direct cause of smaller babies at birth.

The evidence proving light drinking was risky was "surprisingly limited", they concluded.

"As there was some evidence that even light prenatal alcohol consumption is associated with being underweight and preterm delivery, guidance could advise abstention as a precautionary principle".

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