'Little evidence' that light drinking for pregnant women harms unborn babies

Previous theories and studies suggested women were at risk of having premature babies if they drank up to four units of alcohol per week.

Experts have welcomed a review that has found very limited evidence that light drinking in pregnancy harms unborn babies.

Many pregnant women drink varying quantities of alcohol, although several guidelines recommend total sobriety.

On average, drinking up to four units of alcohol a week while pregnant was associated with an eight percent higher risk of having an undersized baby and a 10 percent increased risk of a premature birth as compared to drinking no alcohol.

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.

Of course, this does not mean that light drinking is totally safe, the researchers point out.

Women often enquire about safety margin for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, but there are no clinical test data on this regard. The question is light drinking is good or not.

Overall, the researchers backed this view, saying the lack of evidence of harm was not the same as proof that it is fine to drink.

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

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They did find that, compared to abstaining, light drinking (roughly two drinks per week) may be linked with a higher risk of preterm birth and a higher risk of delivering a small baby.

The UK's Chief Medical Officer commissioned the review into alcohol's effect on pregnancy because of how much "tension and confusion" the matter sparks between health professionals and women who are with child.

"My advice to women is that it's best not to drink at all if you're trying for a baby or are pregnant", said Russell Viner, a professor at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

"Formulating guidance on the basis of the current evidence is challenging", the study went on.

"However, describing the paucity of current research and explaining that 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, ' appears warranted".

During the nine months of pregnancy, many pregnant women have wondered - would one or two glasses of wine really put my baby at risk?

The new paper was "well done" and the conclusions were "appropriate", said Dr. Janet Williams, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health San Antonio, who served as one of the lead authors on a 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics report advising no alcohol during pregnancy.

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. "However, the findings should also caution us not to create a situation where mothers-to-be are made more anxious, or subject to unnecessary moral judgement, on the issue of very light alcohol consumption".


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