By Jen McClure
Drinking a few units of alcohol a week during pregnancy has no long-term effects on child development according to a study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The study of 11,000 5 year olds found no evidence of harm if their mother had drank lightly during pregnancy.
The report did highlighted that heavy drinking led to increased behavioural and emotional problems among children. Heavy drinking while pregnant, as the report concluded, does increase the risk of lifelong damage. The study had less evidence to the risk of light drinking during pregnancy. The research uncovered no extra risk to a child’s emotional and behavioural development compared to mothers who abstained from drinking while pregnant.
In response to the findings, official advice has stressed the importance of abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy. A spokesman from the Department of Health advised, “After assessing the available evidence, we cannot say with confidence that drinking during pregnancy is safe and will not harm your baby. “Therefore, as a precautionary measure, our advice to pregnant women and women trying to conceive is to avoid alcohol.”
The study, led by University College London but involving three other UK universities, is the second to be published by this group examining large numbers of children looking for evidence that brain development had been affected. Dr Yvonne Kelly, from UCL, said : “There’s now a growing body of robust evidence that there is no increase in developmental difficulties associated with light drinking during pregnancy.” The study concluded that children born to light drinkers appeared slightly less likely to suffer behavioural problems, and scored higher on cognitive tests, compared with women who abstained.
Mothers have been left confused by the findings. At a toddler group in Leeds, mothers had mixed feeling about the results. One mother said, “One drink can cause problems, so I didn’t drink.” Another mother said, “The first 3 months are quite key so I didn’t drink then but other than that everything in moderation.”
Drinkware, an alcohol awareness charity agreed with the Government’s official guidelines. Chief Executive, Chris Sorek said: “Despite these findings, it is important to remember that ‘light drinking’ can mean different things to different people.”
Dr Tony Falconer, President of the Royal College Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said that while the “safest choice” was abstinence, the current evidence suggested that drinking one or two units, once or twice a week was acceptable. “The key public health message, whether or not a woman is pregnant, is that light drinking is fine, but heavy and binge drinking should be avoided.”