Science News

Is alcohol safe during pregnancy?

Thu, 20th Jun 2013

Hannah Critchlow

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Moderate alcohol exposure during pregnancy does not affect the child's subsequent motor skills, new research has shown.

Heavy drinking during pregnancy can harm unborn babies. Alcohol crosses the placenta and can stunt a baby's growth, cause distinctive facial changes and damage the developing brain, which can lead to poor memory, attention deficits, impulsive behavior and poor reasoning power. Dubbed fetal alcohol syndrome, up to 1 in 500 live births in the USA and Europe are affected.

To avoid this, practioners typically advise women to steer clear of alcohol A heavily pregnant woman.whilst pregnant.  But what about drinking smaller amounts? Say a glass of wine of an evening? Would this affect the child?

Over the last 10 years, researchers at Bristol University have followed almost 7000 children to find out, comparing their balance skills, which reflects brain development, with self-reported alcohol consumption logged by the childrens' mothers ten years previously while they were pregnant.

Three categories for alcohol exposure were used: no alcohol; low (1-2 glasses of wine per week) moderate (3-7 glasses) and high intake (over seven). The mothers' patterns of drinking were also recorded, either as binge drinking, or regular small quantities.

Children of women that drank moderately during pregnancy (3-7 small glasses of wine a week), performed slightly better at the balance tests than those whose mothers had abstained.

The same thing was seen when looking at paternal drinking consumption: moderate drinking fathers had slightly better-balanced children. Binge drinking, on the other hand, was associated with poorer balance control in their child.

But, moderately-imbibing mothers were from a higher social economic group and had greater levels of education, which may affect their children, including how they are raised, what types of activities or sports they do at home and the school they go to.

Also, it's important to note that these results do not imply that drinking one glass of wine each evening whilst pregnant will lead to a better balance in your children, years down the line. The research finds a link, but does not imply causation. Also, the researchers were looking only at balance at 10 years, and their may be other cognitive measures, which were no assessed, that were negatively impacted by modest drinking.

So, the safest advice probably remains to minimise alcohol intake in pregnancy...



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The first sentence in the Naked Scientist article is grossly misleading, and it endangers unborn children.

Alcohol damages mental skills starting at low concentrations and motor skills starting at higher concentrations.

Researchers have proven that any amount of alcohol causes permanent brain damage to the fetus regarding mental skills. Motor skills are the least of an FASD patient's worries. By the time motor skills are impaired, the mental problems are off the charts.

Do not drink while pregnant.

Hannah Critchlow, why don't you tell readers how the cerebral cortex is created and what any amount of alcohol does to the cortex? Don't be telling half-truths.

I don't care if I lose my forum membership over this. Tell the whole truth. Lmnre, Sat, 22nd Jun 2013

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