Published: Tue, September 12, 2017
Health | By Jay Jacobs

Light drinking during pregnancy does not harm baby

Light drinking during pregnancy does not harm baby

Their evidence supports the new guidelines released by the Department of Health in 2016, which advise women not to drink any alcohol when pregnant or trying to conceive.

The study systematically reviewed all the data from a wide range of high quality observational studies on the impact of light drinking - around 32g of alcohol, which works out at three standard drinks in Irish units.

They looked particularly at complications of pregnancy and birth characteristics, such as miscarriage, premature birth, and undersized babies, and longer term issues, such as the developmental delays.

"While this study adds to the evidence that drinking one to two units of alcohol a week after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is unlikely to have a harmful impact on the baby or pregnancy, we can not rule out the risks altogether".

There is "surprisingly limited" proof that a little alcohol harms an unborn child, researchers said.

They found that, on average, it was associated with an eight per cent higher risk of having a small baby compared with drinking no alcohol at all.

Official NHS guidance from the Chief Medical Officers for the United Kingdom published a year ago says pregnant women should not drink because "experts are still unsure exactly how much - if any - alcohol is completely safe for you to have while you're pregnant".

Until recently United Kingdom guidelines advised women to avoid drinking alcohol while trying to conceive, and in the first trimester.

As a result women are told to avoid heavy or "binge drinking" but advice on "safe" drinking levels remains a grey area. There was also a potential risk linked to premature birth, although this was less clear.

This guidance was based on a "better safe than sorry" principle, in the absence of strong evidence for or against actual harmful effects of alcohol to the unborn baby.

The researchers said there was insufficient data to "make robust conclusions", adding that evidence on the effects of light drinking was "sparse".

In addition, they said that overall there was still some uncertainty, for example, on how light drinking in pregnancy affected other aspects of the baby's health.

"Formulating guidance on the basis of the current evidence is challenging", the researchers mused, which is a delicate way of saying "It's impossible to say one way or another".

The evidence on how much, if any, is safe to drink, or at what stages of pregnancy, is notable by its absence, they add.

However, women who have had a drink while pregnant, perhaps unwittingly, "should be reassured that they are unlikely to have caused their baby considerable harm", the team wrote.

But the Bristol team emphasised that their review, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research, referred to light drinking and that the effects they found were small.

A standard 175ml glass of red, white or rose wine with a ABV of 12 percent contains 2.1 units.

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