There is very little evidence that drinking small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy harms babies, according to new research by the University of Bristol.
The study was carried out to provide women with the most up-to-date information to help them to make informed decisions and should offer reassurance to those wracked with guilt for having the odd glass.
But the review still advises that the safest approach is to avoid alcohol altogether in the absence of strong evidence for or against actual harmful effects of alcohol to the unborn baby.
Researchers found that drinking even small amounts during pregnancy may be linked with higher chances of having a small baby and delivering prematurely.
But they found ‘insufficient evidence’ to suggest a link between light drinking and other health outcomes such as miscarriage, still birth, long term developmental delays, behavioural and cognitive deficits.
“Formulating advice on the basis of the current evidence is challenging because we are still building the full picture of what happens to the unborn baby when small amounts of alcohol reach the bloodstream or brain,” said Dr Luisa Zuccolo, who co-led the study.
“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.”
The team reviewed all the high quality scientific studies they could find on the effects of drinking small amounts of alcohol – defined as one to two UK units once or twice a week – during pregnancy. (Two units is equivalent to to one pint of strong beer or a medium size glass (175ml) of light white wine).
Based on the research available, they found that women who reported drinking even this amount were, on average, eight per cent more likely to have a small baby, and ‘weak’ evidence suggests a link to premature births, but proof of harm was lacking.
There is no doubt that getting drunk, or binge drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and can lead to mental and physical problems in babies, but the effects of light alcohol consumption remain hazy.
This latest review, published in BMJ today, supports new guidelines released by the Department of Health in January 2016 which advises women who are pregnant or trying to conceive to avoid alcohol altogether.
Main image: Tatiana Vdb.