Light Drinking While Pregnant Doesn’t Harm Children, Study Says

Pregnant women who have one or two drinks a week don’t harm their children, a study found.

Five-year-old children born to light drinkers showed no increase in socioemotional difficulties or cognitive deficits compared with those born to mothers who abstained during pregnancy, according to the study published today in the Journal of Epidemiological and Community Health. The authors don’t champion drinking during pregnancy.

“We are objective scientists, we don’t want to take an advocacy stance on this,” the lead author, Yvonne Kelly, an epidemiologist at University College London, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Surprisingly, children of mothers who were light drinkers were 30 percent less likely to have behavioral problems, and these children achieved higher cognitive scores than those whose mothers didn’t drink during pregnancy, the researchers found.

This finding may be attributable to the socioeconomic status of light drinkers, the study said. Mothers who had one or two drinks a week had more advantages than those who abstained during pregnancy and mothers who never drank. It could also be a reflection of the fact that mothers who drank lightly were more relaxed, Kelly said.

“There are many plausible explanations,” Kelly said. “What we can say clearly is there is a link between heavy drinking and the consequent problems. We don’t question that at all.”

The researchers used data from the Millennium Cohort Study, analyzing about 11,000 children born from 2000 to 2002. Mothers were interviewed multiple times on their drinking and socioeconomic habits as well as child-rearing behavior and their children’s behavioral and intellectual development.

The authors had reported similar findings on three-year-olds, but had followed-up to make sure they weren’t overlooking any long-term effects.

The American Pregnancy Association states that there is no safe amount to drink during pregnancy, and the more an expectant mom drinks, the more she raises her baby’s chances of having problems.