In some countries indulging in an occasional drink during the 38 weeks of pregnancy is considered acceptable, but in the United States the practice verges on taboo. Obstetricians frown upon it, government guidelines heartily discourage it, and a pregnant woman sipping a glass of wine in a restaurant is commonly the recipient of raised eyebrows and looks of disgust.
And indeed, research has linked heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy with health and developmental problems in children; However, the effects of low level consumption have been less clear.
But now a new study may shed some light on the topic. Published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the findings suggests that light drinking (up to two drinks per week) during pregnancy is not linked to unfavorable behavioral or cognitive outcomes in childhood.
Working with data from the Millennium Cohort Study, a national study of infants born in the U.K. between 2000-2002, the researchers set out to find whether light drinking in pregnancy was linked to adverse developmental in 7-year-old children.
The study collated information on more than 10,000 7-year-olds, identifying social and emotional behavior, including hyperactivity, attention or conduct problems. The children were also tested for cognitive abilities in math, reading and spatial skills.
Groups included in the sample were mothers who never drank, those who abstained during pregnancy but otherwise did drink, light drinkers during pregnancy, and heavier drinkers during pregnancy.
Looking at the results from children born to mothers who were light drinkers and those who abstained altogether during pregnancy, the researchers found that children born to light drinkers were shown to have less behavioral difficulties than those born to mothers who didn't drink during pregnancy. However, the difference was not enough to be significant.
In addition, children born to light drinkers were found to have higher test scores compared to children born to non-drinkers, but again, these differences had little statistical significance, except for reading and spatial skills in boys.
The authors of the study conclude that while children born to light drinkers appeared to have more favorable developmental profiles compared to those born to mothers who did not drink during pregnancy, after statistical adjustment, these differences largely disappeared.
Professor Yvonne Kelly, co-director of ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies (ICLS) at University College London and co-author of the study said, "There appears to be no increased risk of negative impacts of light drinking in pregnancy on behavioral or cognitive development in 7-year-old children.”
She added, “While we have followed these children for the first seven years of their lives, further research is needed to detect whether any adverse effects of low levels of alcohol consumption in pregnancy emerge later in childhood."
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