How Safe is Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy?
The Lifestyle During Pregnancy Study examined five-year-old children and their mothers from the Danish National Birth Cohort. The study investigated three possible neurodevelopmental effects in five-year-old children whose mothers reported drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol1 during pregnancy.
Five research papers from the study were published in the BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The papers examined intelligence, attention, executive function,2 and combinations of these in the five-year-old children.
The findings were:
- Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy did not affect intelligence scores and was not associated with decreased intelligence scores for five-year-old children. In addition, no association was found between binge drinking early in pregnancy and child intelligence. However, it was found that women who binged during the first two weeks of gestation weeks were less likely to have children with low IQ.
- Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy was not associated with attention skills for five-year-old children. In addition, no consistent associations were found between binge drinking and attention test scores.
- Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy was not associated with executive functioning in five-year-old children. Only weak and inconsistent associations between binge drinking and executive functions were found.
- Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol or any binge drinking during early to mid-pregnancy was not associated with five-year-old children’s intelligence, attention, and executive function, when studied in combination with each other.
Findings from these five research papers found no evidence that drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during early to mid-pregnancy have any negative affect on the intelligence, executive function or attention of children at age five.
The nation-wide Danish study was partially funded by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Note: This website is informational only. It does not make suggestions or recommendations about alcohol, drinking, pregnancy, health, nutrition or any other subject and none should be inferred.
- Sources: Falgreen, E., et al. The effects of low to moderate prenatal alcohol exposure in early pregnancy on IQ in 5- year-old children. BJOG, 2012, BJOG 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2012.03394.x; Kesmodel, U.S., et al. The effect of alcohol binge drinking in early pregnancy on general intelligence in children. BJOG, 2012, DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2012.03395.x; Underbjerg, M., et al. The effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption and binge drinking in early pregnancy on selective and sustained attention in 5-year-old children. BJOG, 2012, DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2012.03396.x; Skogerbø, Å., et al. The effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption and binge drinking in early pregnancy on executive function in 5-year-old children. BJOG, 2012, DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2012.03397.x; Kesmodel, U.S., et al. The effect of different alcohol drinking patterns in early to mid pregnancy on the child’s intelligence, attention, and executive function. BJOG, 2012, DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2012.03393.x; material also adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention summary, which is in the public domain.
- Because of the stigma against drinking alcohol while pregnant, there is good reason to believe that the actual consumption rates were substantially higher than reported. This mean that the safe drinking levels are probably higher than the reports suggest.
- Several important points are worth noting:
• Because it's impossible to "prove a negative," opponents of drinking alcohol in general can always and forever say that "no safe limit on consumption has been proven"
• There appears to be no evidence that drinking in moderation (no more than one drink of beer, wine or distilled spirits) by pregnant women has ever caused Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or otherwise harmed a single baby. The burden of proof lies on those who contend that such drinking is harmful and they have not been able to do so.
• Women who choose to drink in moderation while pregnant can do so with knowledge that their decision is consistent with scientific evidence.
• There is always the possibility that some as yet unidentified harm to a baby might result from light or moderate drinking during pregnancy.
• Given the above possibility, even if remote, the very safest choice for an expectant mother's fetus would be to abstain.
• Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant might wish to discuss the matter with their own physician or health care provider.
Filed Under: Women's Health