Children born to women who drink moderately during pregnancy are no more likely to have cognitive or behavioural problems than those of abstainers, a new study has found.
One glass a week: ‘no adverse effects’
This study, reported in BJOG, An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, put together data from the Millennium Cohort Study, a national study of 10,000 infants born in the UK between 2000-2002.
The study assessed whether light drinking – defined as to two units of alcohol or the equivalent of on 175ml glass of wine per week – in pregnancy was linked to unfavourable developmental outcomes in seven-year-old children.
Researchers from University College London used information on over 10,000 seven-year-olds, looking at their social and emotional behaviour as well as their cognitive performance in maths, reading and spatial skills.
Their parents and teachers were also surveyed via questionnaires.
The sample was made up of mothers who never drank, those who did drink but gave up during pregnancy, light drinkers, and those who drank more during pregnancy than otherwise.
Children who were born to light-drinking mothers were found to have lower (ie better) behavioural difficulties scores than those born to abstainers. The difference was insignificant except in the case of boys, the study says.
Furthermore, BJOG reports, ‘children born to light drinkers were also found to have more favourable (higher) cognitive test scores compared to children born to non-drinkers, but these differences mostly lost statistical significance, except for reading and spatial skills in boys.’
The report concludes that drinking lightly during pregnancy has no adverse affect on children up to the age of seven.
Indeed, children born to light drinkers appeared to have more favourable developmental profiles than those born to abstainers. But, the paper says, when statistically adjusted the differences are negligible.
Another study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), using similar samples and the similar tests but on 11-year-olds, came to very similar conclusions.
‘Light drinking in pregnancy does not appear to be associated with clinically important adverse effects for mental health and academic outcomes at the age of 11 years,’ it said.
Helena Conibear, co-director of ISFAR, the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, said the research would have particular resonance for the 25% of women with unplanned pregnancies.
‘Although the best advice is to avoid alcohol if you are pregnant, the present research can reassure mothers who drank occasionally without realising that they were pregnant, that they have not done long-term harm to their baby.’
Written by Adam Lechmere