Limited evidence to show light drinking in pregnancy can harm baby

A possible link between light drinking and smaller birthweight was found but questioned

A possible link between light drinking and smaller birthweight was found but questioned Credit Getty

After reviewing 5,000 studies and selecting 26, researchers at Bristol University analyzed the prenatal impact of light drinking of two units up to twice a week, or four units a week, as compared with no alcohol at all.

Women are officially advised to avoid all alcohol while pregnant - but that recommendation is based less on hard scientific data and more on the principle of "better to be safe than sorry".

Official NHS guidance from the chief medical officers for the United Kingdom published previous year said expectant mothers should not drink at all because "experts are still unsure exactly how much – if any – alcohol is completely safe for you to have while you're pregnant".

The analysis showed that drinking up to four units a week while pregnant, on average, was associated with an eight per cent higher risk of having a small baby, compared with drinking no alcohol at all.

These include miscarriage, premature birth, undersized babies, and longer-term issues, such as the developmental delays, impaired intellect, and behavioural difficulties typical of fetal alcohol syndrome, the study in the "British Medical Journal Open" revealed.

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However, the team behind the research point out they are not promoting drinking in pregnancy, and agree that no alcohol is the safest option.

One expert, Dr Ellie Lee said: "Official advice about drinking in pregnancy has gone down an overtly precautionary route".

Here's everything we know about the guidelines on drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Professor Jane Halliday from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute says the study has its limitations but the message that low level drinking in pregnancy is OK is ill-advised.

But critics have warned this advice is unduly worrying to women, especially those who drink before they discover they are pregnant.

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But again, the NHS say the safest approach is to avoid alcohol while pregnant.

Many pregnant women wonder if one glass is safe.

Whilst it is possible that light drinking is associated with a slightly higher risk of having a small baby, there are other possible explanations.

"However, describing the paucity of current research and explaining that 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, ' appears warranted. Formulating guidance on the basis of the current evidence is challenging", she said, according to the New York Post.

The new paper was "well done" and the conclusions were "appropriate", said Dr. Janet Williams, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health San Antonio, who served as one of the lead authors on a 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics report advising no alcohol during pregnancy. But women who do drink small amounts during their pregnancy can be reassured that they are not likely to have caused any danger to their baby's health.

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Drinking during pregnancy remains an issue of great concern as nearly 80 percent of moms-to-be in the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia drink some amount of alcohol during their pregnancy.

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