Study: Single Binge Drinking Incident During Pregnancy May Not Hurt Fetus

While consistently drinking throughout a pregnancy can seriously harm an unborn child, a single incident of binge drinking while pregnant probably will not harm the developing fetus, according to a new study published in the December issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

In their study, Oxford University researchers Jane Henderson and Ron Gray, and Danish researcher Ulrik Kesmodel from the University of Aarhus, said there is not enough evidence linking binge drinking, a behavior that is becoming increasingly common among pregnant women, to pregnancy complications.

The study does not, however, give women permission to go on drinking binges, defined as five or more drinks, during their pregnancy, said one doctor.

"No, not at all," said Dr. Men-Jean Lee, director of perinatal research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. “I think the study has to be read really, really carefully in the context of what the author’s are saying. And what they're saying is that there just isn't enough information to say one way or another."

The study did find that women who went on drinking binges before realizing they were pregnant did not appear to harm their unborn children, said Lee, who specializes in high risk pregnancies.

“What they’re saying is that if a woman goes on a drinking binge and finds out two weeks later she’s pregnant, she doesn’t need to have an abortion or worry about a miscarriage or birth defects,” she said.

For their study, the researchers initially identified more than 3,500 scientific papers between 1970 and 2005 looking at pregnancy and alcohol. The authors found 14 focusing on binge drinking and concluded that there is little substantive evidence that a the occasional binge caused problems such as miscarriage, stillbirth, abnormal birth weight, or birth defects such as fetal alcohol syndrome.

One study did suggest that binge drinking could damage brain development resulting in reduced verbal IQ, learning problems and poorer academic performance.

“This systematic review found no convincing evidence of adverse effects of prenatal binge drinking, except possibly on neurodevelopmental outcomes,” the authors wrote.

The authors suggest that further research is needed and that women who know they are pregnant should avoid binge drinking.

Lee said she advises her patients not to drink. “In the U.S., we tell people no drinking, total abstinence,” she said. “Because we just don’t know how much is too much.” contributed to this report