'Weak evidence' that light drinking during pregnancy harms baby

That Friday night glass of wine might not do as much damage as you'd think.      Shutterstock  SpeedKingz

Previous research shows up to 80pc of pregnant women in Ireland, the UK, New Zealand and Australia drink alcohol during pregnancy.

Experts have welcomed a review that has found very limited evidence that light drinking in pregnancy harms unborn babies.

According to The Independent, official NHS guidance published only a year ago 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'".

A research team from Bristol University, UK, says light alcohol consumption during pregnancy may lead to premature delivery.

They called for more research on light drinking in pregnancy, including possible benefits of light alcohol consumption versus abstinence.

Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King's College London, said: "The association of alcohol in excess with adverse outcomes is well established, including in pregnancy". By comparison, light or moderate smoking less than 20 cigarettes per day was associated with a 22 percent increased risk.

"Evidence of the effects of drinking up to 32 g/week in pregnancy is sparse". According to the experts, the uncertainty, and potential for harm, means that it is still best to go without a drink until after giving birth.

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There is no proven "safe" amount that women can drink while pregnant, although there is plenty of evidence on the unsafe risks of heavy drinking.

In seven of those studies, light drinking was associated with at least eight percent increased risk of having a small baby or a premature birth.

"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".

For example, a 2013 study from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, also published in BMJ Open, followed 6,915 children whose mothers had between none to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy.

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

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. "It will be an important challenge for those responsible for public health messages to convey nuanced advice that explains how robust or otherwise the evidence is".

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. It also shows the failure of researchers so far to focus on light versus no alcohol consumption instead of moderate and heavy alcohol consumption.

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