It's OK To Drink (A Little) During Pregnancy

Phillip Cunningham
September 13, 2017

Strict government guidelines warning pregnant women against drinking any alcohol are not justified by evidence, a landmark study has found.

They agree that drinking no alcohol in pregnancy is the safest option, but women should be told that little research has been done on light drinking, although they should also be informed that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", they write.

United Kingdom researchers reviewed all studies done on the subject since the 1950s and found no hard proof that one or two glasses of wine a week (four units) poses a threat to the child.

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.

Of course, until more research is conducted, many doctors now advise to avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy - no matter the type of boozy beverage.

So Bristol University scientists set out to determine the effects of low-to-moderate levels of drinking by women on pregnancy and the long-term health effects on their child.

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

The risks associated with light drinking, however, are less clear. 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.


Without the evidence, it is impossible to say whether drinking small amounts is safe or not, they say. 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.

The analysis showed that drinking three standard drinks, totalling 32g of alcohol a week, was associated with an 8pc higher risk of having a small baby, compared with drinking no alcohol at all.

They added: "However, describing the paucity of current research and explaining that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", appears warranted".

A clinical trial showed that women with at-risk drinking have more chances to reduce their consumption if they were warned of the risks for their pregnancy and their unborn child on several occasions than if they were simply given an information brochure.

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.

"In addition, there has been no evidence regarding possible benefits of light alcohol consumption versus abstinence".

What seems to lie at the heart of public messages addressing alcohol in pregnancy is whether women can be trusted to understand the existing evidence, and whether they are able to recognise the difference between light and heavy drinking.

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