Published June 19, 2013
Pregnant women may be able to consume between three to seven glasses of alcohol per week without causing any neurodevelopmental problems in their unborn children, HealthDay reported.
In a study published in BMJ Open, researchers analyzed the self-reported drinking habits of 7,000 mothers, at both 18-weeks into the pregnancy and again when their children were 4 years old.
When asked during pregnancy about their alcohol consumption, 70 percent of the expectant mothers said they abstained from alcohol entirely, while 25 percent said they consumed a low to moderate amount of drinks each week. Low alcohol use was defined as one to two drinks per week, while moderate alcohol use ranged between three to seven glasses per week.
One in seven women admitted to binge drinking during pregnancy, meaning they had consumed at least four glasses of alcohol in one sitting.
By the time the children were 4 years old, 50 percent of mothers said they drank moderately – particularly women who were older, more affluent and better educated, HealthDay reported.
When the children reached 10 years old, researchers put them through a series of tests to measure their ability to balance – an indicator of fetal neurodevelopment.
Researchers discovered that moderate maternal drinking, both while pregnant and when the children were older, was actually associated with better overall balancing abilities in children.
However, genetic testing also revealed that children of mother’s with a ‘low alcohol’ gene, which reduces drinking behaviors, didn’t perform any worse on balance tests than mothers who didn’t have the gene.
Experts cautioned that variables such as maternal wealth and education, as well as the fact that levels of drinking were self-reported, may have influenced the findings.
"[There's] certainly no evidence that moderate alcohol use by pregnant moms is good for their kids, and [there are] reasons to be cautious about other messages around 'benefits' of moderate alcohol use by pregnant moms,” said study co-author John Mcleod chair of clinical epidemiology and primary care with the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol. “But equally, [there's] no strong evidence for important harmful effects."
Another British study released in April showed no link between light maternal drinking (one to two drinks per week) and increased risk for mental defects among children by the time they reached age 7.