'Little evidence' light alcohol consumption in pregnancy harms

Red wine being poured into a stem glass at the table

Red wine being poured into a stem glass at the table

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

Before that, pregnant women had been told they could drink one or two units - equivalent to one or two small glasses of wine - a week.

The Bristol University team stress this does not mean it is completely safe.

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

At the same time it indicated that consumption should be restricted to within "one to two United Kingdom units, once or twice a week".

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.

It looked particularly at complications of pregnancy and birth characteristics, such as miscarriage, premature birth, and undersized babies, and longer term issues, such as the developmental delays, impaired intellect and behavioral difficulties typical of fetal alcohol syndrome - effect of heavy drinking in pregnancy.

"While this study adds to the evidence that drinking one to two units of alcohol a week after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is unlikely to have a harmful impact on the baby or pregnancy, we can not rule out the risks altogether".

There was also some evidence of a heightened risk of premature birth, but this was less clear.

The study noted in comparison, light to moderate smoking of less than 20 cigarettes per day was associated with a 22 percent increased risk.

The team of researchers used all available research that has been carried out on the subject and found no evidence of harm other than an association between light drinking (up to four units of alcohol per week) and smaller babies.

For instance, "women often ask about "safe" levels of drinking during pregnancy - 'but one glass is OK, isn't it?'" Loubaba Mamluk, senior research associate in epidemiology at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and lead author of the paper, said in an email.

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

There is very little evidence that light drinking during pregnancy harms unborn babies, a study has found.

"These were all representative studies of pregnant women or women trying to conceive who reported on their alcohol use before the baby was born", Mamluk said.

"However, describing the paucity of current research and explaining that 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, ' appears warranted".

On the other hand, for the mom-to-be who might have had a cocktail or two before she knew she was pregnant, as long as she was not binge drinking, there is little evidence to suggest that she should be overcome with worry, according to the paper.

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

A standard 175ml glass of red, white or rose wine with a ABV of 12 percent contains 2.1 units.

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