Little evidence that light drinking harms baby

Experts warn against any level of alcohol during pregnancy following a review of research

Previous year new guidance to the NHS in England urged women to try not to drink at all, but in the real world, say the new study's authors, up to 80% in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia drink some alcohol while they are pregnant.

Very few studies have so far compared light to non-drinkers, and there is lack of evidence on most other outcomes for the baby, including development, behaviour, cognitive impairment, greater problems in pregnancy or a more complicated delivery.

For decades, pregnant women have been told to abstain completely from alcohol while they are with child, though newer thinking has suggested a drink or two won't cause any damage.

They examined the studies, which involved drinking up to four units (32 grams in the United States) of alcohol per week, compared to not drinking at all.

Is light drinking safe or not during pregnancy?

One expert, Dr Ellie Lee said: "Official advice about drinking in pregnancy has gone down an overtly precautionary route". In 2016, a CDCP report stated fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) characterized by lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities are completely preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol while pregnant. Research on the potential risks of light drinking during pregnancy is really scarce.

Bernadette White at Mercy Health from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says she always advises against light drinking during pregnancy but when it comes to an occasional drink on a special occasion, common sense must prevail.

But a new review of several existing studies hints that small amounts of alcohol may slightly boost the risk of premature birth and low birth weight.

They found that drinking up to four units a week while pregnant, on average, was associated with an 8% higher risk of having a small baby compared with drinking no alcohol at all.

The evidence on how much, if any, is safe to drink, or at what stages of pregnancy, is notable by its absence, they add.

The review also didn't say anything about pregnant women who, say, drank a glass of wine or a couple of beers at a party before they knew they were pregnant. "The distinction between light drinking and abstinence is indeed the point of most tension and confusion for health professionals and pregnant women".

Experts still recommend not drinking any alcohol while pregnant.

"Formulating guidance on the basis of the current evidence is challenging", the study went on.

If you are anxious about how much you have been drinking when pregnant, talk to your doctor or midwife. "We believe women should have access to high quality, evidence-based information on matters relating to pregnancy, are capable of making the choices that are right for them, and should be trusted to do so". "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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