Light Drinking During Pregnancy

by Julie Snyder

drink balanced on pregnant bellySome restaurants in the United States refuse to serve noticeably pregnant women. Pregnant women continue to endure glares when they buy a bottle of wine. Drinking during pregnancy seems to bring out opinions! These opinions are usually based on myth instead of fact.

One of the most common questions is, "Are you able to drink a little during pregnancy without hurting my baby?" While some experts say even one drink might damage your baby's health, others say light drinking during pregnancy is "okay." What does the research show?

Drinking from the Well of Research

In the last decade, more than 10,000 studies addressed the affect of alcohol on the baby in the womb. There's a correlation between the amount you drink and the increase in the amount of risks and potential problems. However, reasearch shows a low alcohol intake might not hurt your baby at all. We've chosen ten studies to start your research and included details about each one at the end of the article.

  1. Five-year-olds whose moms drank a little during pregnancy had less behavior problems than those born to heavy drinking or abstaining moms.
  2. Babies of older moms may be more adversely affected.
  3. Some babies are more affected by alcohol than others.
  4. Prenatal drinking increases the risk of acute Myeloid Leukemia.
  5. Light drinking in pregnancy was not a risk factor for child behavioral problems.
  6. Maternal drinking could affect your baby's future fertility.
  7. Alcohol use changes IVF and GIFT success rates.
  8. Low to moderate prenatal alcohol exposure was not associated with preterm or small babies.
  9. No language delay found with low levels of drinking during pregnancy.
  10. Binge drinking increases the risk of cleft lip and cleft palate.

Making Your Choice

International guidelines all agree that no drinking is the safest option during pregnancy. They're clear that there's absolutely no question that heavy, long-term, or repeated binge drinking during your pregnancy is associated with serious maternal and fetal risks. If you're pregnant and have a history of imbibing regularly, it's definitely in both you and your baby's best interest to stop or cut back drastically. We've summarized the data from the International Center for Alcohol Policy for your convenience:

  1. Avoiding alcohol is the safest choice, especially during the first three months of your pregnancy.
  2. Heavy drinking or binge drinking during pregnancy can hurt your baby.
  3. One to two drinks a week during pregnancy may not be as harmful as we once thought.

When it comes to drinking during pregnancy, what would you choose?

In my work I see newborns with the facial features common to fetal alcohol syndrome babies but psychological damage concerns me more. Alcohol breaks something in these kid's brains. They seem to grow up not knowing or caring about their actions -- like they are without a conscious. I wouldn't take the chance and drink during pregnancy. Damage from alcohol seems so random. ~Kimberly Williams, Labor and Delivery nurse, Burien, WA


Medical sources:
1. Kelly Y, Sacker A, Gray R, Wolke D, Quigley M. Light drinking during pregnancy: still no increased risk for socioemotional difficulties or cognitive deficits at 5 years of age? J Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech.2009.103002. A study of 11,000 British children born from 2000 to 2002 found that cognitive deficits and problem behaviors at age five were less common among children exposed to one or two drinks a week during pregnancy.

2. Lisa M Chiodo. Children of pregnant women 30 or older who binge-drink are more likely to suffer greater damage from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. October 2010. Children of older women were more likely to be affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder than children of younger women even though both groups reported the same drinking patterns during pregnancy.

3. Sittig L, Shukla P, Herzing L, Redei E. Strain-specific vulnerability to alcohol exposure in utero via hippocampal parent-of-origin expression of deiodinase-III. FASEB March 23, 2011, doi:10.1096/fj.10-179234. Babies with a certain version of a thyroid gene are more susceptible to damage from alcohol.

4. Paule Latino-Martel, Doris S.M. Chan, Nathalie Druesne-Pecollo, Emilie Barrandon, Serge Hercberg, and Teresa Norat. LMaternal Alcohol Consumption during Pregnancy and Risk of Childhood Leukemia: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev May 2010 19;1238. A "yes-or-no" study indicate that maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy is associated with a significantly increased risk of AML in young children.

5. Robinson M, Oddy W, McLean N, Jacoby P, Pennell CE, de Klerk N, Zubrick S, Stanley F, Newnham J. Low–moderate prenatal alcohol exposure and risk to child behavioural development: a prospective cohort study. BJOG 2010;117:1139–1152. Children exposed to 2–6 drinks per week of alcohol showed no increase in later behavioral problems. The study didn't observe physical developmental outcomes.

6. C.H. Ramlau-Hansen, G. Toft, M.S. Jensen, K. Strandberg-Larsen, M.L. Hansen, and J. Olsen. Maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy and semen quality in the male offspring: two decades of follow-up Hum. Reprod. (2010) 25(9): 2340-2345. Prenatal drinking information was taken. Two decades later, blood and semen test on these now grown men, indicated the sperm concentration decreased with increasing prenatal alcohol exposure.

7. Klonoff-Cohen H, Lam-Kruglick, Gonzalez C. Effects of maternal and paternal alcohol consumption on the success rates of in vitro fertilization and gamete intrafallopian transfer. Fertility and Sterility Volume 79, Issue 2 , Pages 330-339, February 2003 Both mom's and dad's drinking negatively affects the success rate of in vitro fertilization and gamete intrafallopian transfer.

8. O'Leary C,Nassar N, Kurinczuk JJ, Bower C. The effect of maternal alcohol consumption on fetal growth and preterm birth. BJOG Volume 116, Issue 3, pages 390–400, February 2009. Moms drinking less than 60 grams of alcohol a week and no more than two standard drinks per occasion did not have more preterm birth or small-for-gestational-age infants.

9. O'Leary C, Zubrick S, Taylor C, Dixon G BA, Bower C. Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Language Delay in 2-Year-Old Children: The Importance of Dose and Timing on Risk. PEDIATRICS Vol. 123 No. 2 February 1, 2009, pp. 547-554. No association was found between low levels of prenatal alcohol consumption and language delay at any period of time in a child's development, compared to mothers who engaged in heavy or binge drinking.

10. DeRoo LA, Wilcox AJ, Drevon CA, Lie RT. First-trimester maternal alcohol consumption and the risk of infant oral clefts in Norway: a population-based case-control study. American Journal of Epidemiology July 30, 2008, doi: 10.1093/aje/kwn186. Researchers found that babies whose mothers reported binge drinking during the first trimester were at an increased risk of having cleft lips and cleft palates than were babies whose mothers were nondrinkers.

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