October 6th, 2010
05:26 PM ET
For years doctors have warned pregnant women not to drink, because studies had shown that consuming alcohol while carrying a child, could affect the baby's development after birth.
Now new research suggests that light drinking, such as a glass or two of wine a week, does not harm a young child.
Investigators found that youngsters of mothers who drank one or two 8 oz. glasses of alcohol a week during their pregnancies had no problems with their behavioral or intellectual development by the time they turned five.
The study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health looked at 11,500 children born between September 2000 and January 2002. Their mothers were asked to fill in a diary regarding alcohol consumption for two weeks and were interviewed in person about their drinking habits while they were pregnant.
The women were placed in one of five categories: teetotal; those who drank but not in pregnancy; light drinkers (one to two glasses per week); moderate (three to six glasses a week or three to five at one sitting); and binge or heavy drinkers (seven or more glasses a week or six at one sitting).
The study showed of those women, just under 6% of them never drank and 60 percent abstained during pregnancy. About 26 percent of the mothers claimed they were light drinkers, while 5.5 percent said they fell into the moderate drinker category and 2.5 percent confessed to being binge or heavy drinkers.
Researchers discovered that children whose mothers had been heavy drinkers were more likely to be hyperactive and have emotional problems more than those whose mothers abstained during pregnancy.
But the important discovery says the study's author was there was no evidence to suggest that the babies born of mothers classified as light drinkers, (those who had no more than one or two glasses of alcohol a week) were at all harmed. In fact, data showed these babies were 30% less likely to have behavioral problems and had higher scores in mental development tests than those babies born of women who abstained in pregnancy.
"This isn't about heavy consumption or fetal alcohol syndrome in any sense or about binge-drinking," says author Dr Yvonne Kelly of University College London's department of epidemiology and public health. "It is about the occasional drink and whether that is associated with developmental problems."
The authors had already published their results for children up to the age of three. This latest paper follows them to the age of five, to make sure there is no longer after effect of the alcohol their mothers drank during pregnancy.
Kelly did acknowledge that women who drank occasionally tended to be from more advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, and said they did take that factor into account when they worked on their data.
But pediatric experts warn this study does not give the green light for pregnant women to drink. They say each mother and each baby are different and pregnant women should talk to their obstetricians about the needs of their unborn child, before they start sipping on spirits.
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