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Light Drinking During Pregnancy Will Not Harm Unborn Babies

Update Date: Apr 17, 2013 05:49 AM EDT

Just because your pregnant doesn't mean you can't drink... in moderation.

British scientists found that indulging in up to two units of alcohol or one small glass of wine each week during pregnancy will not harm the development of unborn babies.

Past studies have linked heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy with health and developmental problems in children.  However, the latest study found that children born to light drinkers are actually better behaved and perform better on some cognitive tests than those born to mothers who completely abstained from alcohol during pregnancy.

The study, published April 17 in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, involved data from 10,534 UK seven-year-olds whose mothers had either abstained from alcohol or drank lightly during pregnancy.

After analyzing information from home-visit interviews, questionnaires completed by parents and teachers, as well as children's cognitive test scores for math, reading and spatial skills, researchers concluded that light drinking during pregnancy "is not linked to adverse behavioral or cognitive outcomes in childhood," according to the study.

In fact, after comparing children born to mothers who enjoyed small amounts of alcohol each week to those born to mothers who completely abstained from alcohol during pregnancy, researchers found that boys born to light drinkers had better behavioral scores compared to those born to mothers who didn't drink.

What's more, researchers found that boys born to light drinkers scored slightly higher on cognitive tests for reading and spatial skills.

Scientists conclude that women can safely drink a 175ml glass of wine, a 50 ml glass of spirits or just under a pint of beer each week without damaging their children's intellectual of behavioral development.

"There appears to be no increased risk of negative impacts of light drinking in pregnancy on behavioral or cognitive development in 7-year-old children," researcher Prof. Yvonne Kelly, from University College London, said in a news release.

"We need to understand more about how children's environments influence their behavioral and intellectual development. While we have followed these children for the first seven years of their lives, further research is needed to detect whether any adverse effects of low levels of alcohol consumption in pregnancy emerge later in childhood," she noted.

However, experts warn that it is still unclear as to what level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy may produce adverse outcomes in children.  If women are worried about consumption levels, experts say the safest option would be to completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.

A 2012 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that children born to mothers who drank heavily (about 13 drinks per week) during pregnancy had smaller brains, lower intelligence and greater facial abnormalities. 

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