Published: Tue, September 12, 2017
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

Scant evidence to back pregnancy 'no drinking' rule

Scant evidence to back pregnancy 'no drinking' rule

In addition, they said that overall there was still some uncertainty, for example, on how light drinking in pregnancy affected other aspects of the baby's health.

Two units of alcohol being equivalent to one pint of strong beer or a medium size glass (175ml) of light white wine.

The review, published in the journal BMJ Open, found only seven studies with data on whether consuming small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy affected the size of babies at birth.

They trawled all available research on the effects of light drinking (up to four units of alcohol per week) in pregnancy.

The most common alcohol-related questions that Horsager-Boehrer hears from pregnant patients involve concerns about a single drink they might have had before they knew they were pregnant or having a sip of champagne at a special event, she said.

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In the United States, doctors have long warned that drinking any alcohol while pregnant can come with serious medical risks, such as the possibility of miscarriage, stillbirth, or physical and behavioral problems in the baby, known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

"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", said the researchers in a statement.

The recommended British limit for adults is 14 units, but for pregnant women, the advice is complete abstinence. During pregnancy, alcohol passes from the mother's bloodstream through the placenta and into the baby's bloodstream, where it can affect its development. From among almost 5,000 articles, it selected 26 relevant studies with data suitable to be pooled.

"We were surprised that this very important topic was not researched as widely as expected", she said.

Just because evidence for potential health risks associated with light drinking was not found in the new paper, that does not mean that there are no risks at all, she said.

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However, the Department of Health and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said the safest course of action is still for women to avoid drinking in pregnancy.

Experts not involved in the study welcomed its contribution to the limited knowledge pool.

The lack of high quality data illustrates the difficulties of designing research that can truly evaluate the causal impact of light drinking while minimising the risks of bias and confounding, say the researchers.

James Nicholls, research director at the charity Alcohol Research UK, said the findings "should caution us not to create a situation where mothers-to-be are made more anxious, or subject to unnecessary moral judgment, on the issue of very light alcohol consumption".

Risk expert Professor David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, said: "With luck this should dispel any guilt and anxiety felt by women who have an occasional glass of wine while they are pregnant".

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