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One drink a day may be safe in pregnancy

Wednesday July 6th, 2011

Light drinking in pregnancy may not affect a baby's birth weight or size, researchers said today.

A team from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada, examined 36 previous studies on alcohol and birth outcomes.

Dr Jayadeep Patra and colleagues found that, as previously established, heavy alcohol consumption did raise the risk of low birth weight, preterm birth and small size for gestational age.

But they also concluded that consumption of less than 19 grams per day (about two UK units per day) was not associated with the risk of preterm birth. However, the risk of preterm birth was 23 per cent higher with an intake of 36 grams a day.

The risks of low birth weight and small size for gestational age began to rise once intake reached more than ten grams per day (one UK unit). Full results are published today (July 6) in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

"This paper indicates that heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy increases the risks of all three outcomes while light to moderate alcohol consumption shows no effect," said Dr Patra.

Spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Patrick O'Brien, added: "The findings from this study show that low-level drinking during pregnancy does not result in preterm birth and smaller babies," but "we are concerned by women who are not aware that they may have a drink problem".

The findings reflect growing controversy about what to tell pregnant women about alcohol - with concerns from many professionals that allowing any will lead to excessive drinking.

Gail Johnson of the Royal College of Midwives commented: "This research is interesting, but it is important to recognise that the study has only looked at birth weight and the size for gestational age.

"The RCM position remains clear and unchanged: women should avoid alcohol consumption during pregnancy."

She added: "There is still no evidence to suggest what a safe consumption limit of alcohol in pregnancy is and there is the potential for further confusion when the amount of alcohol a pregnant woman consumes depends on the size of the glass and the strength of the alcohol she drinks."

Patra, J. et al. Dose-response relationship between alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy and the risks of low birthweight, preterm birth and small for gestational age (SGA): a systematic review and meta-analyses. BJOG 2011.

Tags: Childbirth and Pregnancy | Drug and Alcohol Abuse | North America | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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