Having the occasional drink while pregnant may not be harmful

Joy Montgomery
September 13, 2017

The research team, which reviewed all the available studies done on the topic since the 1950s, found no convincing proof that a drink or two a week is harmful.

"When a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, the alcohol in her blood quickly passes through the placenta and the umbilical cord to the baby", Jarris explained.

Official NHS guidance from the chief medical officers for the United Kingdom published previous year said expectant mothers should not drink at all because "experts are still unsure exactly how much – if any – alcohol is completely safe for you to have while you're pregnant".

In response, the scientists systematically studied numerous data sets from various eminent observational studies on the effect of light alcohol consumption (2 units up to twice a week, or 4 units a week, approximately equal to 32 grams) compared with consuming no alcohol at all.

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

And the CDC notes that women who are trying to conceive should stop drinking, too.

Dr. Paul Jarris, chief medical officer of the March of Dimes, acknowledged that research hasn't been conclusive about low use of alcohol in pregnant women.

The review underlined that drinking four units of alcohol a week was associated with a 10 percent increase in the risk of premature birth.

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"Despite the distinction between light drinking and abstinence being the point of most tension and confusion for health professionals and pregnant women and contributing to inconsistent guidance and advice now and in the past, our extensive review shows that this specific question is not being researched thoroughly enough, if at all", Mamluk added.

The evidence proving light drinking was unsafe was "surprisingly limited", they concluded. According to the experts, the uncertainty, and potential for harm, means that it is still best to go without a drink until after giving birth.

"Regularly drinking even small amounts could be harmful and should be avoided, in line with the precautionary approach".

Since half of all pregnancies are unplanned, many women drink before the test shows positive.

The occasional glass of wine or champagne during pregnancy can not be considered safe due to a lack of evidence and alcohol must be avoided, researchers warn.

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. "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". Therefore, all doctors tell women to avoid drinking high units of alcohol.

What seems to lie at the heart of public messages addressing alcohol in pregnancy is whether women can be trusted to understand the existing evidence, and whether they are able to recognise the difference between light and heavy drinking. But women who do drink small amounts during their pregnancy can be reassured that they are not likely to have caused any danger to their baby's health.

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