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Light drinking in pregnancy not harmful - study

Wednesday April 17th, 2013

Light drinking in pregnancy is unlikely to have adverse effects on the infant's brain, researchers claim today.

The latest findings will stoke up the debate about whether pregnant women should be allowed to drink alcohol or whether they should abstain completely.

The findings come from the Millennium Cohort Study - a national study of children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002.

Professor Yvonne Kelly of University College London, UK, and her team looked at whether drinking up to two units of alcohol per week in pregnancy was linked to "unfavourable developmental outcomes" when the children were seven.

They used figures on 10,534 seven year olds, gathered from interviews and questionnaires by parents and teachers. With this they identified any social and emotional problems such as hyperactivity, attention or conduct problems. Maths, reading and spatial skills were also tested to measure cognitive performance.

Results showed that the children of light drinkers had slightly fewer behavioural problems than those whose mothers did not drink. They also had slightly better cognitive test scores, but the result was not reliably strong, except in the case of reading and spatial skills in boys.

Full results are published today (17 April) in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The authors say that previous research linked heavy drinking in pregnancy with health and developmental problems in children, so they concentrated on the effects of low level drinking.

Professor Kelly said: "There appears to be no increased risk of negative impacts of light drinking in pregnancy on behavioural or cognitive development in seven year old children.

"Further research is needed to detect whether any adverse effects of low levels of alcohol consumption in pregnancy emerge later in childhood."

Journal editor, John Thorp, commented: "It remains unclear as to what level of alcohol consumption may have adverse outcomes, so this should not alter current advice."

Kelly, Y. et al. Light drinking versus abstinence in pregnancy - behavioural and cognitive outcomes in 7-year-old children: a longitudinal cohort study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 17April 2013 doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12246. [abstract]

Tags: Child Health | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Drug & Alcohol Abuse | Nursing & Midwifery | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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1At 18/04/2013 02:14am Editor wrote

Comment from the Royal College of Midwives: Jacque Gerrard, of the Royal College of Midwives, says:  “There is still no clear and conclusive evidence around the amount of alcohol pregnant women can drink and the affect this may have on the developing baby. Evidence does suggest however that cumulative alcohol consumption has damaging effects on the baby. As a result, we continue to advise women not to consume alcohol during their pregnancy or when they are trying to conceive. It is important that women contact a midwife as soon as they know they are pregnant so that the midwife can give evidence based information regarding diet and nutrition in their pregnancy.”

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