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.