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Light drinking in pregnancy 'does not harm baby'

(119 Posts)
Miffster Wed 06-Oct-10 07:01:02

A good summary from CBC News: Light drinking no risk to babies: study

'The children of mothers who drank small amounts of alcohol during their pregnancy are not at an increased risk for behavioral or intellectual developmental problems, a new British study suggests.

In fact, the study, which appears in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that children born to light drinkers were 30 per cent less likely to have behavioural problems than children whose mothers did not drink during pregnancy.

As well, the study found that children of parents who were light drinkers achieved higher cognitive scores than those whose mothers had abstained from alcohol while pregnant.

The researchers used data from a study that tracked the health of more than 11,000 children in the U.K. born between September 2000 and January 2002. Mothers were asked questions about their children's behavioural and intellectual development at age three. They were subsequently assessed at the age of 5.

But the research found that the children of mothers who were heavy drinkers were more likely to be hyperactive, compared with children of mothers who did not drink.

The researchers interviewed the mothers about their drinking patterns during their pregnancy, along with other social and economic factors.

Mothers who consumed one or two drinks a week were considered light drinkers. Heavy drinkers were those who consumed seven or more drinks a week or six at one sitting'

Daily Fail: 'Glass of wine in pregnancy 'does not harm your baby'

BBC: 'Light drinking no risk to baby'

However...despite this study, the official advice remains the same, and in an update to the story, the Press association report

'Press Association: 'Pregnant women warned over alcohol'

'Women were advised that official guidance to avoid alcohol in pregnancy remained in place after experts said drinking one or two units a week does not harm a child's development.
Mothers-to-be can safely drink a 175ml glass of wine, a 50ml glass of spirits or just under a pint of beer each week without affecting intellectual or behavioural development, according to a new study.
But children born to mothers who drink heavily or binge drink (seven or more units a week or six at one sitting) are at higher risk of behavioural and emotional problems.
The finding adds to previous research which found light drinking has no negative effect on toddler development, and the issue of how much is safe to drink during pregnancy has caused controversy in recent years.
In 2007, the Department of Health published guidance saying pregnant women should avoid drinking alcohol altogether, as should those trying to conceive. This replaced previous guidance which said it was safe for pregnant women to drink one to two units of alcohol per week.
The Government said its update was not based on new research, but was to provide consistent advice to all women.
Following the latest study, in which experts examined the risk of drinking on children up to the age of five, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "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."
Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said she was concerned women may take the findings as a message that it is "ok" to drink alcohol.
"There is no firm evidence that small amounts of cumulative alcohol consumption does not have an effect on the developing foetus," she said. "Because of this our advice to women remains the same; if you are planning to become pregnant, or if you are pregnant, it is best to avoid drinking alcohol."'

Miffster Wed 06-Oct-10 07:01:31

I had less than half a glass of champagne on wedding anniversary at 7 weeks pg and half a glass of wine for DH birthday at 8 weeks pg. And it tasted odd. Then, nothing til I was well into 2nd trimester, after which I drank a couple of units once or twice a week, most weeks. When on holiday at 21-22 weeks though, I drank a glass of wine or beer every day.

Then nothing for 3 weeks, and now I'm back on 2-3 glasses of wine a week at 30 weeks.

I have to say I did read up on drinking and pregnancy early on, ( including threads on MN) and decided that a few units after first 12 weeks wasn't a risk, but this study has made me feel vindicated in making that decision, so

Bradyboo Wed 06-Oct-10 07:27:52

I have been having a glass of red wine 3/4 times a week. I asked Doctor about it and said it was fine and helps with bp (which has been high).

JeelyPiece Wed 06-Oct-10 07:34:02

I have been having the odd half pint of lager every fortnight or so, decided it was fine. Glad they have come out with this, I can refer to it when people gasp at me!

excitedmummy2be Wed 06-Oct-10 07:34:08

So in essence.... They think their studies show it's ok to have 1 or 2 units a week but still recommend you don't drink! Also 1 or 2 units is ok but 6 in one sitting or 7 in a week is not.... So what happens if I drink 3 in one sitting? This article is full of contradictions!!!! This certainly doesn't give me the confidence that a drink is ok at all and only goes to confuse the issue even more IMO. I go by the fact that If a large glass of wine makes me feel tipsy, what on earth must it do to your baby?? I would never judge a woman who chose to drink in PG but this article is nonsense!

JeelyPiece Wed 06-Oct-10 07:37:19

They compared light and heavy drinking, three units is moderate drinking. A large glass of wine is three units in one sitting so clearly not recommended. One unit is about 125ml wine depending on strength, small glass. I take about two hours to drink my unit just to be on the safe side!

Miffster Wed 06-Oct-10 08:00:01

It's basically back to the advice which was standard before the 'no alcohol' advice: '*1-2 units, once or twice a week*'.

A unit being a small glass of wine, in an old fashioned small wine glass, not the modern ones which are big enough to swim a goldfish in, and take a third of a bottle.

runningrach Wed 06-Oct-10 08:02:19

I guess there is always a spectrum of reactions to alcohol as everyone's body handles it differently so it makes more sense to take two extreme situations to compare plus the control group of no alcohol.

I have had a small glass of wine once every couple of weeks on average since 5th month of pregnancy, always with food, and I don't feel bad about it. I also went off the taste in the first few months (when vomiting every day!).

But something that confuses me - someone said to me they thought it would be worse to drink after the first few months when the placenta is formed so alochol passes to the baby, but in the first c.12 weeks the placenta isn't formed so it wouldn't. That sounded logical to me... but I'm hoping someone who knows more about biology that i do can comment?!

Igglybuff Wed 06-Oct-10 08:12:18

I think the government has to be careful to explain what 1-2 units are. Some might interpret that as 1-2 large glasses of wine (which are now normal to many of us).

1 unit is a small glass of wine which is 8% strength. When was the last time you had a bottle of wine which was 8%?? 12% is the norm.

trixie123 Wed 06-Oct-10 08:45:15

I'm fairly sure the "don't drink at all" message comes about because it is easier than trying to explain the complexities of units, alcohol strengths in different drinks, the differing effects on different people etc. The vast majority of pregnant women have enough common sense to work out what "moderate" and "occasional" drinking means and its fine but you do get the occasional story about pubs refusing to serve pregnant women and that kind of thing so clearer and well publicised guidance would be useful from that point of view.

japhrimel Wed 06-Oct-10 08:46:44

More evidence backing up current evidence! The Government's line has never been evidence based.

Most people do not know what a unit is, that's the issue. Many people also think that if they don't feel drunk, it won't affect the baby, which is plain wrong.

When 1 glass of wine can be as much as 2-3 units, it's kind of understandable that not enough people realise what 1-2 units is. Personally I think more education and more restriction on bars/restaurants selling large glasses of wine would have a better effect. In France, 250ml would be a carafe, not a glass of wine!

runningrach - actually, drinking during the first trimester, when a lot of development is taking place is probably worse. When the baby is fully formed, it takes a lot more to cause a congenital structural or brain issue. When the nerve pathways and cell structures are actually forming, it doesn't take much to make them form wrongly.

Honeybee79 Wed 06-Oct-10 09:24:06

I was told 1-2 units once or twice a week was safe and that is what I have been having some weeks though less other weeks.

japhrimel - yes, I agree that there are loads of people out there but don't know what a unit is but I think that most women, when pregnant, err on the side of caution. I don't drink when I am out as prefer to have little glasses that I have poured myself at home.

moonstorm Wed 06-Oct-10 09:38:53

I wouldn't put alcohol in a bottle and give it to a baby (even a minute amount)... so I don't drink in pregnancy. (I also abstain when breastfeeding).

But I'm not fussed by alcohol. I think I'm not in the norm though...

smile

ChoChoSan Wed 06-Oct-10 10:12:56

I have never seen any evidence that 8 units or fewer per week cause problems during pregnancy.

I tend to have 1 to 2 small drinks twice a week, but I have had a couple of weeks here and there where I have had a bit more, if out on special occasions. (also had weeks with less).

I know lots of people who had children and drank during pregnancy, and can't think of any who I would view as having been negatively affected.

It would help if people were given some kind of risk index - how likely is it that damage will occur - then we can do a proper risk assessment, as we do with all other aspects of our personal well being during pregnancy.
For example, we consider things that might increase BP, such as excercise, overeating etc., riskier sports/travel. Frankly, if there is a one in two thousand risk, then I am going to be more relaxed than if it is 1 in 5, but at the moment drinking in pregnancy is just like an ill-defined bogeyman - we don't know what level can cause a problem, we are not too sure what problems it causes (even FAS is a collection of various symptoms), and we have no idea how frequently it results.

I can't believe there is not more information on this!

brockleyD Wed 06-Oct-10 10:14:44

I drink at most one 125 ml of wine a week, normally I poor a bit less, about 100 ml to be on safe side and drink it with at least 2 glasses of water and eat with it. I don't know if water helps but makes me feel better about diluting it.

I am really pleased with this additional research puts my mind at rest and makes me trust my instinct more that its fine.

ChoChoSan Wed 06-Oct-10 10:23:52

I would also add that, bizarrely, they are still suggesting that women abstain, even though this study shows that if you totally abstain, your baby is 30% more likely to exhibit behavioural problems - surely this is irresponsible, and we should be prescribed that one drink a week.

So someone like Moonstorm who doesn't drink, could be expected to go against everything that seems commonsense and healthy for her and her baby, just because of a report like this...imagine if the govt started getting on her case to start drinking, and made her feeel like she might be harming her baby to not do so! Bonkers!

This just highlights how unhelpful these half-baked reports are to someone ttrying to make a good rational decision and weigh up their lifestyle options.

ChoChoSan Wed 06-Oct-10 10:36:58

Also, I think they need to ditch the guidance about a 'small' glass of wine being 1 unit...I have never seen even a small standard measure for wine come in as low as 1 unit, and I always calculate my own wine untis by alcohol content and measure: strength x volume - divided by 1000, so my wine at the weekend was 13%, so every 100mls I had gave me 1.3 units, simples! If I were in a pub drinking, I would probably be sloshing a hell of a lot of booze down my neck without even thinking about it!

JeelyPiece Wed 06-Oct-10 10:38:07

It's clear from the report that the lower incidence of problems in children whose mothers drank a little bit as opposed to abstaining is due to social factors and is NOT a direct result of the alcohol!

So no basis for gin and tonic prescriptions I'm afraid.

JeelyPiece Wed 06-Oct-10 10:40:25

It's not a half-baked report.

Muser Wed 06-Oct-10 10:43:09

The reporting of this research is bad, I listened to one of the researchers discussing it on Radio 4 this morning and it made much more sense.

Cho the 30% figure around behavioural problems was before they accounted for social factors. Once they included those it disappeared. Of course that means it's ridiculous to even report it. I'm not entirely sure why it was included in the study to be honest.

Reporting of studies like these is always awful, often because the journalist doesn't actually understand what they're writing about. So they seize on something that sounds good and go with it. Which makes it very hard for us to decide what to do.

Antidote Wed 06-Oct-10 10:45:38

In addition, there may be residual confounding in the 'non-drinkers' group i.e. people who do not drink because of other serious health issues or who are previous heavy drinkers who have now quit, and these factors MAY have additional detrimental effects.

ChoChoSan Wed 06-Oct-10 10:59:15

The 'half bakedness' that I was referring to is the media reporting of such studies, which does not make it clear about adjustment for social factors either in favour of or against findings of damage related to consumption of a particular number of units. I have little doubt that total abstention does not cause problems, hence my point about what a tee-totaller like moonstorm might make of it.

There could be a number of factors as to why a child of a drinking mother might be developmentally affected, that don't necessarily related to the effect of alcohol in utero, but rather to care and upbringing.

I don't expect the media to reproduce very detailed and technical medical reports, but I do think they should do more to provide a good framework to help people understand. The reporting of science in the nedia is a real issue now, as there tend to be fewer specialist science reporters.

Muser Wed 06-Oct-10 11:10:55

Couldn't agree more Cho. Science reporting is woeful. That's why we have a new "X gives/cures cancer" story every other week.

moonstorm Wed 06-Oct-10 11:11:10

I sometimes think there should be a study alongside these where the participants undertake the drinking of grape juice as many times a week...

I sometimes wonder whether it's the alcohol giving benefits or the concentration of the fruit juice...

No, excitedmummy. A team of scientists from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London have carried out a study on 11,513 children and looked at their cognitive skills and behavioural patterns at five years, correlated with how much the mothers drank during pregnancy.

They have found pretty much what every other study on this has ever shown, that there is absolutely no increase in risk of behavioural difficulties or cognitive defects for children whose mothers drink 1-2 drinks per week, and in fact behaviour was generally better for these children (although that's probably down to social factors, I would guess).

They also found that children of mothers who drank 7 or more units a week were more likely to have emotional and behavioural issues.

If you are desperate to know what they found about those who drank 3-6 units a week, you can link from the abstract to the full text, and the JECH is currently offering a 30-day free trial so you can read the whole article.

The Department of Health (i.e. completely different organisation) still recommend that women don't drink at all, but admit that there is no evidence to support this and that they only changed the previous advice because they thought that women would be "confused" by advice to drink no more than 2 units a week.

If you wish to go by "the fact that If a large glass of wine makes me feel tipsy, what on earth must it do to your baby??" then go right ahead (I would point out that a large glass of most modern wines is 3 units, or very close to it, so over the 1-2 units a week limit anyway). I will choose to go by all the reputable research that there's ever been on the subject and have a small glass of wine (1-2 units) every so often.

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