Published: Wed, September 13, 2017
Medical | By Rita Mcdonald

'Little evidence' that light drinking for pregnant women harms unborn babies

'Little evidence' that light drinking for pregnant women harms unborn babies

About 80% of pregnant women in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia admitted to drinking some alcohol, according to the research, and since about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it's logical to assume that many women around the world continue to drink before they even know they're pregnant.

They found that in seven of the studies, light drinking was associated with an 8% higher risk of giving birth to a smaller baby, compared to no drinking at all.

Last year Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, issued fresh guidance on alcohol, saying: "Although the risk of harm to the baby is low if [mothers] have drunk small amounts of alcohol before becoming aware of the pregnancy, there is no "safe" level of alcohol to drink when you are pregnant".

Although there is strong evidence that excessive drinking harms babies in the womb, the study from researchers at the University of Bristol found that few good studies had been done on light drinking, which they defined as no more than two small drinks, or four units per week.

Plus, many women may drink alcohol before they find out they're pregnant.

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And the CDC notes that women who are trying to conceive should stop drinking, too. In reality, women must be informed of the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, but this must be done strategically.

The review, in BMJ Open, also notes it appeared to increase the risk of having a premature birth.

Dr Christoph Lees, clinical reader in obstetrics at Imperial College London, said: "This meta-analysis of light drinking in pregnancy points to the generally weak evidence on which Government advice is based".

As for other research that suggests low amounts of alcohol have zero effect on pregnancy, Grunebaum says these assertions may be an attempt to make drinking certain amounts socially acceptable in some countries.

David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said: "With luck this [study] should dispel any guilt and anxiety felt by women who have an occasional glass of wine while they are pregnant".

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Up until past year, women were told they could drink up to one or two units, once or twice a week.

Since half of all pregnancies are unplanned, many women drink before the test shows positive. Some reports have suggested that there may be "safe" drinking levels for pregnancy.

Though they highlight: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

For example, a 2013 study from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, also published in BMJ Open, followed 6,915 children whose mothers had between none to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy.

Dr. Janet Williams, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health San Antonio, who served as one of the lead authors on a 2015 American academy of pediatrics advising no alcohol during pregnancy. It also shows the failure of researchers so far to focus on light versus no alcohol consumption instead of moderate and heavy alcohol consumption.

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