April 24, 2018

Light drinking during pregnancy does not harm unborn baby, study finds

13 September 2017, 12:31 | Leigh Flowers

Light drinking 'does no harm in pregnancy'

Light drinking in pregnancy 'unlikely' to harm babies, but experts caution lack of evidence

Australian experts are warning against drinking any alcohol during pregnancy, despite a United Kingdom study concluding there's not enough evidence to suggest an occasional beverage is harmful to the baby.

Researchers found very little evidence that light drinking in pregnancy causes harm to babies, including birth defects, developmental delay, behavioural problems and impaired intelligence. Different doctors might have contradictory opinions; while some recommend avoiding alcohol completely, others are a bit more lenient.

The new study, carried out by experts from the Medical Research Council's Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, the University's School of Social and Community Medicine, and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, discovered that drinking up to four units a week while pregnant was associated with an average 8% higher risk of giving birth to a slightly smaller baby (SGA), compared to those who did not drink at all.

The team found 26 previously published studies on the topic and looked at all the results together, the BBC reported.

For most of the consequences the researchers analyzed, there were only a few observational studies that compared light to non-alcohol consumption.

However, the Department of Health and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said the safest course of action is still for women to avoid drinking in pregnancy. However, women should still avoid alcohol during pregnancy, just to make sure they don't experience any unpleasant events.

The review underlined that drinking four units of alcohol a week was associated with a 10 percent increase in the risk of premature birth. However, the solid scientific evidence which should link light drinking to pregnancy complications is quite precarious.

The evidence proving light drinking was unsafe was "surprisingly limited", they concluded.

Overall, the researchers backed this view, saying the lack of evidence of harm was not the same as proof that it is fine to drink.

"Warnings about the dangers of drinking any alcohol at all during pregnancy are not justified by evidence", University of Cambridge professor David Spiegelhalter told The Guardian.

The occasional glass of wine or champagne during pregnancy can not be considered safe due to a lack of evidence and alcohol must be avoided, researchers warn.

The most common alcohol-related questions that Horsager-Boehrer hears from pregnant patients involve concerns about a single drink they might have had before they knew they were pregnant or having a sip of champagne at a special event, she said.

Researchers found that drinking even small amounts during pregnancy may be linked with higher chances of having a small baby and delivering prematurely.

Since half of all pregnancies are unplanned, many women drink before the test shows positive. "It is most likely low on the basis of the information we now have, but you can't be promised that and you don't know that". "Formulating guidance on the basis of the current evidence is challenging", they say.

Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King's College London, said: "It has been hard to associate low levels of alcohol intake in pregnancy and harm, and this work confirms this". There have been "mixed messages" around drinking while pregnant and the campaign aims to "put the issue to bed once and for all", according to the NHS.

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