Is It Really OK To Drink In Early Pregnancy?

Danish researchers have found that low to moderate drinking in early pregnancy is “safe”. The new study in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that drinking one to eight drinks per week in early pregnancy was not linked to developmental issues when children were five. In particular, drinking one to four units per week or five to eight units per week did not affect the children’s IQ test results old. However, drinking higher levels of alcohol — nine drinks per week — was linked to lower attention span in children.

The definition of a drink was determined by the Danish National Board of Health, which says that 12 grams of alcohol is a standard drink, vs. 7.9 grams in the UK and 0.6 fluid ounces in the US.

The lead authors of the research, Ulrik Schiøler Kesmodel of Aarhus University and Prof Erik Lykke Mortensen of the University of Copenhagen, note that “high prenatal exposure to alcohol has consistently been associated with adverse effects on neurodevelopment,” with effects on intelligence, attention and executive functions; it has been inked to fetal alcohol syndrome. But, they note that “less is known about the effects of low to moderate, weekly average consumption levels and binge drinking.”

1,628 Danish women took part in the study, half of whom were first-time mothers and just under a third of whom smoked. They were asked about their alcohol intake while they were pregnant and their children were evaluated according to the Wechsler Primary and Preschool Scales of Intelligence-Revised (WPPSI-R), for their IQ, attention span, executive functions such as planning, organization, and self-control. Women were also asked about binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion. Women who abstained also participated in the study.

Previous studies had asked women to recall their alcohol consumption during pregnancy so BJOG study’s findings are all the more notable as the women were asked about their intake at the time they were pregnant.

Patrick O’Brien, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and a consultant obstetrician, praised the design of the study but emphasized to the BBC that women should not take the study’s findings “as an excuse to indulge in more than the recommended amount in the UK” or indeed anywhere. “Erring on the side of caution” is still recommended.

Whether a woman chooses to drink while pregnant is of course a highly personal decision. I abstained from alcohol while pregnant; my teenage son Charlie is autistic with what are often referred to as “global developmental delays.” My husband and I do think that Charlie’s autism is largely genetic, based on careful assessment of both of our family’s neuropsychological histories. I am certainly glad, though, that I never drank while expecting as, like many parents (and perhaps mothers especially), I have often wondered “what could I have done differently” or “what did I do wrong” that might have adversely affect his development.

The BJOGstudy’s authors says that “additional large scale studies should be undertaken to further investigate the possible effects.” John Thorp, the editor of BJOG, also emphasizes that “The best advice is to choose not to drink however small amounts have not been shown to be harmful.”

Would you drink moderately while pregnant, based on this study?

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Photo by Brett L.


Aj Ylizaliturri3 years ago


Lynne B.
Lynne B4 years ago

One small glass of wine on a very special occaision is not going to harm your child. one glass a day most probably.

Amber Beasley
Amber Beasley4 years ago

I don't care what some study says, I would still never ever risk it. that is my child's health they're talking about.

Christine Stewart

Please don't smoke or drink while pregnant- you are ingesting toxins that get into your baby's bloodstream- don't risk it...

Tanya Bannavong
Tanya Bannavong4 years ago

If you can't stop from having an alcoholic drink for 9 months out of your life (more if you plan to breast feed), then you may have a problem. Ok, or not ok. Seems no one really knows. But everyone should know that a fetus, especially during the early months, is just starting to develop--alcohol especially effects the liver and brain. Wouldn't you want to give your growing baby the best possible chance of developing properly?

Heather Marvin
Heather Marv4 years ago

Information changes all of the time, one month its don't drink any alcohol when pregnant, then you can to a certain limit etc. The medical and scientific world are always changing their minds. I think I would lean on the side of caution and probably obstain or drink very little.

Brian H.
Brian H.4 years ago

So you don't know whether there are any conflicts of interest then? I doubt there are, but wouldn't put it past industry! I have actually read more studies saying the opposite to this one and posted a couple earlier. The lead author of THIS study is listed as a PhD student with only one other study cited called "Sex as an obligation and interpersonal communication among Norwegian heterosexual couples."
Seems like a rather bizarre study. With the staggering amount of media coverage this is getting I can't believe it's not even peer-reviewed.
PMID 22706886 - there may be some residual fetal risk. (single episode of binge drinking)
PMID 22708221 - odds ratio for those consuming alcohol in all three trimesters was 3.59 (risk factors for sudden infant death.)

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

Brian-What I am saying is this study (and others) and most doctors agree that moderate use of alcohol is not dangerous and her we have poster after poster shrilly asserting that this is wrong and that somehow the study (and I guess most doctors) are in the pocket of "big alcohol." That is the sort of thing I expect from the mindless right wing bubble.

Brian H.
Brian H.4 years ago

Kevin - what are the conflicts of interest as listed in the study then please. If you're asserting there are none in terms of the alcohol industry presumably you have access to the full study and have read the COI statement? As for something challenging beliefs, are you saying people who would ignore 100 studies for 1 study are not nutjobs? Not saying that's the case here, but it sure sounds like you're referring to one group's study as biblical. FInally, regarding "doctors and scientists" - you might remember that Merck this year agreed to over $4 BILLION in fines and restitution for ghostwritten studies regarding Vioxx which killed 60,000 people. "Doctors and scientists" (and by the way at least one of the names on here appears to come up as a "PhD Student") can also be ghostwriters.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

These "nitwits" are doctors and scientists and there is no evidence that their results are "paid for" by the alcohol industry. Wow when something challenges your beliefs (i.e. a single alcoholic drink will result in FAS) some folks here get just as crazy as the right wing nutjobs.