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Pregnant Woman's Light Drinking May Not Hurt Child's Brain

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Children's mental abilities do not appear to suffer from women's moderate levels of drinking while pregnant, a new series of Danish studies suggests.

The studies involved 5-year-old children. Those whose mothers had consumed up to eight alcoholic drinks per week during pregnancy did not have a higher risk of attention or IQ deficits than the children of women who did not drink during pregnancy, the researchers said.

However, eight drinks seemed to be the threshold: Nine or more drinks per week was associated with an increased risk of attention problems in children, the researchers said.

The most conservative advice remains, "Abstain from alcohol during pregnancy," but small amounts may not present serious concern, the researchers said. However, they added that larger studies would be needed to confirm the results and to examine whether mental problems can arise when the children are older.

Drinking in pregnancy

Heavy drinking in pregnancy has been consistently linked with adverse effects in children, the researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark noted, but less was known about the effects of low to moderate levels of drinking.

The researchers conducted a series of five studies including 1,628 Danish women whose average age was 30. The studies looked at the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy on the IQs, attention spans, planning and organization skills, and self-control of the women's children when the children reached age 5.

The researchers considered one drink to be equal to 12 grams of pure alcohol. (A12-ounce beer contains about 14 grams of alcohol.)

The studies showed that low (one to five drinks per week) to moderate (five to eight drinks per week) consumption during early pregnancy had no significant effect on children's neurodevelopment. However, there was a link between maternal consumption of nine or more drinks per week and an increased risk of low score on tests of overall attention.

Dangerous message

Some experts expressed concern over the findings.

"These findings can easily send a very dangerous message to pregnant woman," Bruce Goldman, director of Substance Abuse Services at the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., said in a statement.

"Those suffering from alcoholism may attempt to rationalize that it is safe to drink moderately, something they may ultimately be unable to do," Zucker said.

"The best advice to woman is to abstain during pregnancy," he added.

Previous studies have found that one or two drinks during pregnancy does not raise the risk of cognitive problems in children, but other studies have found that drinking this amount can raise the risk of miscarriage.

The new studies are published today (June 20) in the journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Pass it on: Despite a new Danish study, experts agree the best advice for pregnant women is still to abstain from alcohol.

Live Science Staff
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