Will Drinking in Moderation Harm Your Baby’s Development?

If you drink in moderation when pregnant, you may not do any damage to family wellness. This is according to a study by the University of Bristol’s School of Social and Community Medicine which found that drinking in moderation through pregnancy does not harm a baby’s neurodevelopment, albeit this may be because women who are more likely to drink moderately are from an affluent background.


Balance tests are an indicator of prenatal neurodevelopment, and so almost 7,000 10-year-olds were asked to take part in one, while their mothers’ drinking habits were recorded during and after pregnancy. Mothers who were more affluent and better educated were more likely to drink in moderation (which was defined as drinking three to seven glasses of alcohol a week) and mothers from a working class background were more likely to abstain from alcohol altogether during pregnancy, or to go the other way and drink heavily or binge drink. The study results, which were published by the journal BMJ Open, revealed that the children of moderate drinkers were able to balance as well as those who had not been exposed to alcohol in the womb.


Study leader Professor John Macleod, from the University of Bristol’s School of Social and Community Medicine, commented, ‘In this group of mothers, moderate alcohol intake was a marker for social advantage which could be a key factor in better balance. It could possibly override subtle harmful effects of moderate alcohol use. The supposed benefits we saw are not the effects of alcohol, they are effects of middle classness.’


He continued, ‘There weren’t many heavy drinkers. We know that heavy drinking during pregnancy has bad effects on a developing foetus. The moderate drinkers consumed an equivalent of up to one glass of wine a day. When we compared moderate drinkers with women who didn’t drink at all we actually found that in relation to a number of different tests of balance the children of moderate drinkers appeared to do better. However, we also found that the women who moderately drank compared to women who didn’t drink tended to be more middle class.’


According to professional policy adviser Janet Fyle, ‘We recognise that this is useful research. However, there is also a large amount of evidence suggesting that the cumulative effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can harm the developing foetus. Our advice continues to be that for women who are trying to conceive or those that are pregnant it is best to avoid alcohol.’ A spokesman for the Department of Health added, ‘Drinking during pregnancy can be associated with miscarriage, foetal alcohol syndrome and low birth weight. Our advice remains that women who are trying to conceive or are pregnant should avoid alcohol. If women choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk.’

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