Avoiding alcohol while pregnant is safest, experts say

13 September, 2017, 00:27 | Author: Garry Little
  • Light drinking in pregnancy 'unlikely' to harm babies, but experts caution lack of evidence

But researchers from the United Kingdom have found that there is "surprisingly limited" evidence showing that light drinking for pregnant women has any detrimental effect on the unborn child.

Mothers who are consumed by anxiety and guilt for having drunk the odd glass of wine when they are pregnant should be reassured by a new study showing there is very little evidence that it harms the baby, say experts. It wouldn't be ethical to recruit one group of pregnant women and ask them to drink alcohol regularly, then compare their babies to those who had no exposure to alcohol in utero.

The study systematically reviewed all the data from a wide range of high quality observational studies on the impact of light drinking - around 32g of alcohol, which works out at three standard drinks in Irish units.

The researchers conducted a systematic review and analysis of 5,000 studies published between 1950 and July 2016 based on low alcohol consumption and pregnancy.

But the evidence on how much, if any, is safe to drink, or at what stages of pregnancy, is notable by its absence.

Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King's College London, said: "The association of alcohol in excess with adverse outcomes is well established, including in pregnancy". The paper noted that up to 80% of women in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia report consuming some alcohol during pregnancy.

The study noted in comparison, light to moderate smoking of less than 20 cigarettes per day was associated with a 22 percent increased risk.

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But there was no evidence of other harms, including miscarriage, birth defects and developmental delay.

But they strongly advised mothers-to-be to avoid alcohol as a precaution.

The evidence on how much, if any, is safe to drink, or at what stages of pregnancy, is notable by its absence, they add.

In seven of those studies, light drinking was associated with at least eight percent increased risk of having a small baby or a premature birth. There have been "mixed messages" around drinking while pregnant and the campaign aims to "put the issue to bed once and for all", according to the NHS. "Women who have had a drink while pregnant should be reassured that they are unlikely to have caused their baby considerable harm, but if anxious, they should discuss this with their GP or midwife", she observed. "It is most likely low on the basis of the information we now have, but you can't be promised that and you don't know that".

Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King's College London, said: "It has been hard to associate low levels of alcohol intake in pregnancy and harm, and this work confirms this".

Drinking during pregnancy remains an issue of great concern as nearly 80 percent of moms-to-be in the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia drink some amount of alcohol during their pregnancy. It also shows the failure of researchers so far to focus on light versus no alcohol consumption instead of moderate and heavy alcohol consumption.

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