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New IQ research prompts warning over drinking alcohol during pregnancy

(210 Posts)
FirstTimeForEverything Thu 15-Nov-12 09:47:01

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BuntyCollocks Thu 15-Nov-12 14:44:16

Well said, andi.

When I was pregnant with DS a mere 2 years ago, the advise was that 1 - 2 units of wine a week actually produced children that were more intelligent, and less prone to hyperactivity.

I have had a very, very occassional glass or red or fizz throughout my pregnancies. My DS is, according to the nursery, health visitors, and the more biased family and friends, exceptionally bright.

I refuse to feel guilty about something they'll likely change in another 2 years, just like every other advice that's been given out.

TinkerTills Thu 15-Nov-12 14:51:50

I too drank moderately during pregnancy. Did i think it was actually a "good" thing? No, of course I didn't! Am I now concerned - you betcha! This is a seriously well done study, I don't think we can quibble with their results (the teams are very experiences of course they controlled for other factors - i even read the paper!)

Can I ask whether 1.8 IQ points makes any difference at all to a child's life chances? I accept their results are statistically significant but what about the clinical relevance? The press release goes on about how people of lower IQ do worse in life, die earlier etc but seriously what difference does it make if your IQ was 90 and its now 88 because your mother drank? Or at the other end does having a meagre IQ score of 150 mean you'll be doomed to work in MacDonald's because it would have been 152 if your mother hadn't drunk?

BTW i looked up IQ on wikipedia(!) and using the version of the test that this paper used it says there is a margin of error of 3 points!! That means that i would get a different score each time I sat the IQ test of, on average, 3 points... SO, as far as i can tell their finding that drinking drops child's IQ by 1.8 points is within the margin of error for the test itself.

So, I'm consoling myself that although we now have the best evidence yet that drinking during pregnancy is definitely bad for the child - the effect on IQ is not clinically significant and won't mean my children are sweeping the streets for a living. Or at least it won't be my fault if that what they chose to do!

bigbuttons Thu 15-Nov-12 14:58:35

One thing getting older teaches you is that every few years there is a new study that blows an old study out of the water. Then there is another study that does the same and it goes on.
They are now saying that NOT eating nuts during pregnancy actually increases the risk of a child developing allergies for example.
I think everything in moderation is ok tbh.

LIttleMcF Thu 15-Nov-12 15:00:50

I really loathe the 'if we tell women they can have two tiny drinks a week, some of them will think it's fine to drink their bodyweight in gin, so we'd better tell them all to not drink any alcohol, ever' feel that these studies seem to have.

There are so many potential variables here that I struggle to see why this research says anything tangibly new.

And the wide-eyed 'why would you ever take a risk with your baby's heath by having one single sip of alcohol' type of comment annoys me. I heard this aimed at a mother who'd had four sips of wine, from a mum who weaned her baby on Wotsits and weak tea.

I had a bit of wine in one pregnancy, none in the other.

CharleeWarlee Thu 15-Nov-12 15:01:23

Ive always said each to their own as it is with this sort of thing. Same with smoking during pregnancy.

Im 38 weeks pregnant, yes I smoke but havent touched a drop of alcohol since being pregnant, and about 4 months before finding out either.

CharleeWarlee Thu 15-Nov-12 15:03:13

I must also add that I've never judged anyone who has drank through pregnancy. Unless they have been absolutely bladdered and staggering around. I just dont fancy a drink, although if I did im sure I would have a small glass of rose

somuchforanindiansummer Thu 15-Nov-12 15:05:42

1.8 IQ points difference. FFS

Let's find another reason to berate and boss around women for something that actually makes negligible difference to children.


Please can we start a campaign on improving the behaviour of men with respect to family life? About 2 minutes on the relationship boards should give plenty of ideas as to how they can fuck around with our kids lives

<kicks furniture>

thundernlightning Thu 15-Nov-12 15:06:00

For those interested, the study was published in PlosOne, and open-access journal and you can read it for free here:

Personally, I have a lot of questions about the cohort in question and the method of alcohol measurement - it looks (at a glance) like alcohol quantities are self reported. My alcoholic parents would cheerfully self report "an occasional drink" so I'm personally a little skeptical of results. That said, I haven't finished reading the paper...

Lottapianos Thu 15-Nov-12 15:10:05

'Please can we start a campaign on improving the behaviour of men with respect to family life? About 2 minutes on the relationship boards should give plenty of ideas as to how they can fuck around with our kids lives'

<nods sagely and joins in with furniture-kicking>


Sick and tired of all this finger wagging too. I'm all in favour of research being made public but these negligible results get blown out of all proportion by the media and there's always a tone of 'listen to this you naughty girls' to it.

TinkerTills Thu 15-Nov-12 15:13:15

thundernlightning - yes, alcohol consumption was self reported. The Children of the 90s study tended to use diaries as the main measure (rather than asking women at 18 weeks gestation to recall what they had consumed over the previous 18 weeks).

chocolateteabag Thu 15-Nov-12 15:14:38

This is a seriously well done study, I don't think we can quibble with their results (the teams are very experiences of course they controlled for other factors - i even read the paper!)

Tinkertills - previous posters are questioning the results - which if you do read the study itself are a bit hmm

They questioned ladies at 18 weeks pg on how many drinks they had over the previous 18 weeks. Seriously! I can't remember what I did last week, never mind 3 months ago. So it's based on memories - not actual lab conditions.

It's good to know what the real risks are, but this one is still very much a "it might be a risk" to have even 1 drink.

And 1.8 IQ points is nothing!

BartletForTeamGB Thu 15-Nov-12 15:15:28

If you read the study, it looks like each risk allele (each specific genetic mutation) contributes 1.8 IQ points each, so:

Public Health Implications

If real these results could have important public health consequences, because cognitive ability has implications for social trajectories and health. It is well documented that individuals with lower IQ have lower socio-economic positions and poorer adult health and even higher mortality rates compared with those with higher IQs [46]–[48]. Whilst the effects of genotype appear modest, 3.5 points difference on the WISC scale for those children with &#8804;2 risk alleles compared to those with 4+ risk alleles, it is important to remember that these are effects for genotypes which are likely to result in very small differences in peak alcohol levels and alcohol exposure, and these subtle metabolic effects are among women drinking less than 1 unit of alcohol per day. Larger causal effects are anticipated for more substantial differences in fetal alcohol exposure levels, for example the differences existing between offspring of mothers with moderate alcohol consumption and mothers abstaining.


Five variants in genes involved in alcohol metabolism amongst children and their mothers were associated with child’s cognitive ability at age 8 in a population-based study.

Associations between child’s genotype and outcome were only present among those whose mothers reported drinking alcohol in moderation during pregnancy. This suggests that, even amongst women drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, subtle changes in exposure to alcohol due to an ability to metabolise the substrate may be important, and offers some support to the hypothesis that even small amounts of alcohol in utero have an effect on future cognitive outcomes.

I think this research is interesting and helps inform women of the risks of alcohol, so I wouldn't take the daft view above that doing research is just to blame women, when it allows women to decide what risks they want to take. Life is full of risk, but evidence like this helps individuals to decide how they want to respond to that.

TinkerTills Thu 15-Nov-12 15:15:29

Lottapianos - i agree! Eammon Holmes got the full force of my shaking fist this morning! Bloody media.

YoullScreamAboutItOneDay Thu 15-Nov-12 15:16:22

The thing that jumped out at me was this:

One drink was specified as one unit of alcohol (corresponding to an ethanol content of approximately 8 grams), and women were asked to recall their frequency of drinking as never, <1 unit/week, &#8805;1 unit/week, 1–2 units/day, 3–9 units/day, or 10+ units/day.

As others have said, one drink was seen as a unit (when it could be three) and I don't understand how they are getting to 1-6 units of alcohol from the survey as it jumps from more than a unit a week up to 1-2 a day (7-14 in a week) as far as I can tell. I presume that anyone who said more than one a week but not 1-2 a day got classified as up to six units. But someone who drank 4 units twice a week wouldn't answer 'one to two a day'. As far as I can see, even the survey itself quantifies consumption so vaguely as to be meaningless. And that's before you get onto inaccuracy of recall and self editing, which studies suggest tend to result in under reporting of drinking rather than over reporting of it.

Lottapianos Thu 15-Nov-12 15:17:07

'Lottapianos - i agree! Eammon Holmes got the full force of my shaking fist this morning! Bloody media'

Oh I can just imagine that he was like a pig in sh!t over this. He loves a good spot of woman-blaming of a morning hmm Tosser.

TinkerTills Thu 15-Nov-12 15:20:52

BartletForTeamGB - thanks for the clarification on the genetics! So its a decline of 1.8 IQ per allelle. But that difference of 3.5 IQ units between those with two risk allelles and those with 4 is only just outside the margin of error for the IQ test itself (3 points according to Wikipedia!).

LeBFG Thu 15-Nov-12 15:21:55

There is no other way around self-reporting alcohol consumption. The real test to prove a link (randomised controlled trial - i.e. giving women weekly drinking or abstinence tagets) wouldn't be ethical as the authors point out early on.

Can a study with limitations tell us anything meaningful? Hell yes, most research papers are flawed in some way, incomplete, less than ideal.

Why was this study interesting? As the authors point out, and as we know on MN, there were some studies showing little/no impact of moderate drinking during pg. THis study shows a slightly different picture, so is interesting.

Should we be getting annoyed about women-bashing research etc? I don't think so. If I drank during pg, I would want to know as much information as possible about the effects on my unborn child. I still might choose to drink, but I want to be informed.

Is the difference in IQ significant? Given the numbers in the study I should say so. Do we give a shit about a 1.8 point difference? Up to the individual. It's not going to turn an Einstein into someone who can't do maths is it?

B1ueberryMuff1n Thu 15-Nov-12 15:24:57

1.8 of a point? hmm. i could have gone to oxford if my mum hadn't had those two sherries.

well, HOW do they measure it anyway? even if they take the parents' iqs, the genes they pass on to their child is not an exact science. unless those parents were to have a clone of the same child but to drrink for one pregnancy and not the other, then HOW could they possibly measure it? confused

TheCrackFox Thu 15-Nov-12 15:32:18

I think it is about time that the goverment put all pregnant women in giant cages, with food and water supplied the entire pregnancy as it is clear to me that women cannot possibly be trusted to incubate their babies properly.

People really think researchers are thick don't they?

chocolateteabag Thu 15-Nov-12 15:33:20

yy B1ueberryMuff1n
What about all the other influences on IQ? How you are raised etc. Too many variables confused

You can have a high IQ and still have no common sense.

If only they'd read this thread first. Then they'd have slapped their heads and thought "well why didn't we think of that?"

YoullScreamAboutItOneDay Thu 15-Nov-12 15:35:44

LeBFG - I totally agree that it is always going to be self reporting. But there are ways to make self reporting more accurate.

For a start, the categories people were asked to use could accurately say how many units they meant - greater than one unit a week but not as much as 1-2 units a day could mean 2 units a week, or it could mean 22 units all on a single night.

They could avoid the lazy one drink= one unit approach. I bet they said 'one small glass of wine' was a unit. The reality is often more like two. And small is very subjective.

To get a decent self reporting, you would have contemporaneous drinking diaries, and education on units so people stood a chance of recording accurately.

This survey data just seems to me to be so vague as to not really give you any genuine indication of how much these women were drinking. In which case it becomes pretty meaningless in terms of adding to the sum of knowledge.

TinkerTills Thu 15-Nov-12 15:45:30

From the Children of the 90s website (

The mothers’ alcohol intake was based on a questionnaire completed when they were 18 weeks’ pregnant. It included questions on the average amount and frequency of alcohol consumption before the current pregnancy, during the first trimester, and in the previous two weeks or at the time when they first felt the baby move. One drink was specified as one unit of alcohol.

Around 32 weeks of gestation the mother completed another questionnaire in which she was asked about her average weekday and weekend alcohol consumption, frowhich weekly intake was derived. Any woman who reported drinking, even if it was less than one unit per week either in the first trimester or when she felt the baby first move was classified as drinking during pregnancy.

At approximately 18 and 32 weeks of pregnancy, the women were also asked on how many days during the past month they had drunk two pints of beer (or the equivalent amount of alcohol). Any women who reported doing this on at least one occasion was classified as a binge drinker for the purposes of this analysis and were excluded.

The children’s IQ was tested when they were aged eight using a shortened version of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children from which an overall age adjusted total score was derived.

Speaking about the findings, the report’s main author, Dr Sarah Lewis, said:

‘Our results suggest that even at levels of alcohol consumption which are normally considered to be harmless, we can detect differences in childhood IQ, which are dependent on the ability of the foetus to clear this alcohol. This is evidence that even at these moderate levels, alcohol is influencing foetal brain development.’

LeBFG Thu 15-Nov-12 15:49:35

I'm not sure that's the point of the study Muffin. They cleverly used these alcohol metabolism genes to factor out those tricksey confounding factors like smoking, diet etc.

The take-home message for me is that some people are genetically more susceptible to alcohol damage than others, and in this sub-group moderate fetal exposure to alcohol is linked to lower IQ.

IQ tests have always been controversial, but I'm always stumped at how else we can measure cognitive powers.

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