'Limited evidence' that light drinking is harmful during pregnancy

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There is “limited evidence” to suggest light drinking during pregnancy has a harmful effect on unborn children, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of Bristol reviewed all available studies on the topic since the 1950s and found no solid proof that a few drinks a week are harmful.

They concluded women who have had a drink while pregnant are “unlikely to have caused their baby considerable harm.”

The review, published in BMJ Open, found a “surprisingly limited” number of studies focusing on pregnant women who drink less than four units of alcohol (32g) a week.

However they stressed that this does not mean drinking throughout pregnancy is safe. There is “some evidence” that light drinking can cause babies to be born small or early. 

While it is well-known that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature births and foetal alcohol syndrome, the study found little research had been done into the effects of light drinking. 

“In conclusion, we found limited evidence for a causal role of light drinking in pregnancy, compared with abstaining,” the study said. 

Drinking during pregnancy does carry a risk of having a small baby (Shutterstock / Anna Grigorjeva)

“Women who have had a drink while pregnant should be reassured that they are unlikely to have caused their baby considerable harm, but if worried, they should discuss this with their GP or midwife.”

Current guidelines from the Chief Medical officer for the UK, Prof Dame Sally Davies, advise total abstinence.

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is prevalent in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia with up to 80 per cent of women consuming some alcohol during pregnancy.

David Spiegelhalter, professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said: “This valuable and humane study has shown that warnings about the dangers of drinking any alcohol at all during pregnancy are not justified by evidence.

“A precautionary approach is still reasonable, but with luck this should dispel any guilt and anxiety felt by women who have an occasional glass of wine while they are pregnant.”

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