Light drinking 'does no harm in pregnancy'

Light drinking 'does no harm in pregnancy'

They recommended pregnant women do not drink alcohol "just in case".

And given the "paucity of evidence", the advice for now must remain "better safe than sorry", the researchers concluded.

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

The team of researchers used all available research that has been carried out on the subject and found no evidence of harm other than an association between light drinking (up to four units of alcohol per week) and smaller babies.

"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", said the researchers in a statement.

The advice backs the guidelines from the HSE, which recommends abstinence.

Guidelines differ between countries, but the issue is controversial.

Only a year ago, official government advice was updated to recommend pregnant women abstain totally from alcohol.

They said women could use this new information to "inform their choices", acknowledging that their research review was based on a handful of available studies and the effects they found were small. During pregnancy, alcohol passes from the mother's bloodstream through the placenta and into the baby's bloodstream, where it can affect its development.

Infographic on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Image Credit National Organisation on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Infographic on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Image Credit National Organisation on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

"As the evidence is uncertain, the lowest risk approach is to avoid alcohol during pregnancy".

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. From among almost 5,000 articles, it selected 26 relevant studies with data suitable to be pooled.

"We were surprised that this very important topic was not researched as widely as expected", study co-author Loubaba Mamluk of the University of Bristol's School of Social and Community Medicine told AFP.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol is clearly linked to foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and the baby having a low birth weight.

Experts not involved in the study welcomed its contribution to the limited knowledge pool.

The new paper was "well done" and the conclusions were "appropriate", said Dr. Janet Williams, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health San Antonio, who served as one of the lead authors on a 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics report advising no alcohol during pregnancy.

But the Bristol team emphasised that their review, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research, referred to light drinking and that the effects they found were small.

But critics have warned this advice is unduly worrying to women, especially those who drink before they discover they are pregnant.

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