October 6th, 2010
05:26 PM ET

Study: Pregnant women can drink.. a little

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.

soundoff (138 Responses)
  1. Concerned Citizen

    Did any one of you bother to read the ACTUAL research article or did you all base your opinions on the biased, irresponsible summary presented by the media? There are numerous flaws in the research. 1)The sample was all Caucasian. 2) The participants in the second half of the study were of higher socioeconomic status (SES) than the first. 3) The data collectors did not bother to determine whether or not the drinking occurred in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd trimester–YES, it makes a difference! 4) The study occurred so long after the pregnancy that you have to take into account recall bias 5) The light drinkers were of higher (SES) and LESS likely to smoke than the abstainers (that alone could account for the difference between the two groups). There were more issues with the study (please read it for yourself), but they are too numerous to point out. Perhaps if you just focused on the words of the actual researchers and not the media you would have a more accurate picture: "Children's social and emotional behaviours and cognitive abilities are heavily influenced by the social environment, and in this study population light alcohol consumption is a marker of relative socio-economic advantage. Therefore, it might be that these social circumstances, rather than the direct physico-chemical impact of ethanol, may be responsible for the relatively low rates of subsequent behavioural difficulties and cognitive advantage in children whose mothers were light drinkers." I am so glad to know that the media is propagating harmful behavior and that most of you are buying it hook line and sinker. Cheers America! Have a round on me!

    November 16, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Louse

    I'd love to see the lifestyles of all of these hard core anti-alcohol women. I am pregnant, and had a sip of wine last night with my dinner! Take that anti-alcohol lobbyists! But you know what else I ingested? All organic, local food, all vegetarian- as always. I do not wear pesticide-ridden cottons, only organic cotton or bamboo or other eco-friendly materials, I do not use cosmetics that have parabens or other dangerous ingredients- and all vegan organic. What we put on our body is also absorbed into the bloodstream. I also teach yoga for a living. I am probably a lot healthier than a lot of other people- pregnant or not. I'm not trying to boast, but does that little sip of wine I had last night with my dinner to literally taste the flavour cancel out all of my 99% very very healthy habits? I would seriously doubt that. In all my years of healthy living and getting in touch with my body, I truly do not believe that alcohol is so lethal, as so women are expressing, that the tiniest amount on even the healthiest person will do damage. It just doesn't make sense.

    December 19, 2010 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sarah

    The whole idea of conducting an experiment with a child's brain in the balance makes me ill. I hope someday we will look back on this experiment as an antiquated, unethical embarrassment. I am sickened that women willingly signed up for this, too. What if there had been clear signs of damage? What then? Would it have been worth it?

    December 21, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. nicole swain

    Im sure the purpose of the study was for Moms who may want an ocassional drink or two, to know if it was harmful or not for their unborn child....Im pretty sure that is as important as it can get and was well worth the money it took to obtain the information!The study of it being bad had to have been with in the last 100 years! I'm old fashion and believe anything people did in the past was healthy enogh to survive. (it comes from the ground) not man made as much as other products we intake! What concerns me is the new foods, drugs and pestisides! Thank you CNN for conducting a more modern version of scientific causes and affects. Its good to know, and we the people have the right to know if the benefite outweigh the consequences or not!

    December 24, 2010 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. avi _ a

    The purpose of the study was to determine whether one or two drinks would be harmful to their unborn child, however I believe that this study is inhumane because even the slightest amounts of alcohol can affect the unborn child during and after development. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a pattern of mental and physical defect that can develop in a fetus when alcohol is consumed. It can affect the child's cognitive development as well as many other variables. There is also the possibility that the child will suffer in school and other social activities at a rate that is far depressed when compared to the average. Experiments shouldn't be conducted to determine whether there is a safe level for alcohol consumption during pregnancy. However for scientific research, it might be useful to learn the exact level that alcohol consumption might be safe. There are various medications that pregnant women cannot take, this study could allow researchers to deem some of these effective medications safe for pregnant women in the future.

    January 13, 2013 at 19:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Beth

    Try raising a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome for 24 hours. That should be enough for any woman to decide that drinking during pregnancy is NOT worth the risk! Believe me, I have been raising our son for 10 years and we both have to live with the consequences of his birthmother's choices.

    June 28, 2013 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Is it okay to have one shot of liquor every now and then while you are pregnant

    August 3, 2017 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. padma

    Great post.
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    June 20, 2018 at 05:25 | Report abuse | Reply
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  11. Ajanae

    Dr Cate Cameron, the lead author of the study, says public health campaigns have had a positive effect on reducing drinking levels, but more needs to be done.

    December 10, 2020 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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