Little evidence that light drinking harms baby

Light drinking in pregnancy 'unlikely' to harm babies, but experts caution lack of evidence

Light drinking in pregnancy 'unlikely' to harm babies, but experts caution lack of evidence

Strict government guidelines warning pregnant women against drinking any alcohol are not justified by evidence, a landmark study has found.

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

"We wanted to give women the most up-to-date and reliable evidence in order to empower them to make an informed decision about drinking during pregnancy and balancing any possible risk with other factors in their lives", she added.

Guidelines in the United Kingdom also say that if you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all.

The research team from Bristol University reviewed all the high quality scientific studies they could find on the effects of drinking small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy.

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That's good news for mums-to-be plagued with guilty over that sneaky glass of wine: Earlier research suggested 40 percent of Australian women consume alcohol while pregnant.

For instance, "women often ask about "safe" levels of drinking during pregnancy - 'but one glass is OK, isn't it?'" Loubaba Mamluk, senior research associate in epidemiology at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and lead author of the paper, said in an email.

The researchers said: "Despite the distinction between light drinking and abstinence being the point of most tension and confusion for health professionals and pregnant women, our extensive review shows that this specific question is not being researched thoroughly enough, if at all".

"We were surprised that this very important topic was not researched as widely as expected", she said.

Two units of alcohol being equivalent to one pint of strong beer or a medium size glass (175ml) of light white wine.

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The new paper included a systematic review and analysis of previous studies on low alcohol consumption and pregnancy that were published between 1950 and July 2016.

James Nicholls, research director at the charity Alcohol Research UK, said the findings "should caution us not to create a situation where mothers-to-be are made more anxious, or subject to unnecessary moral judgment, on the issue of very light alcohol consumption".

However, women who have had a drink while pregnant, perhaps unwittingly, "should be reassured that they are unlikely to have caused their baby considerable harm", the team wrote.

Heavy drinking has always been known to harm unborn babies and is linked to birth defects, developmental delay, behavioural problems and impaired intelligence.

However, the Department of Health and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said the safest course of action is still for women to avoid drinking in pregnancy.

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She added: "If pregnant women have concerns about their level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy, we encourage them to speak to their midwife who will be able to offer them advice and support".

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