Light drinking is Okay for pregnant women or not?

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Pregnant women who drink alcohol lightly may not harm their children's behavioral or intellectual development, a new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests.

The study confirmed what some early studies found - light drinking may not raise the risk of health conditions in children. But none of such studies proved that drinking is indeed harmless as these studies are observational and errors that were introduced into the results may be huge.

The study involved 11,513 children born between Sep 2000 and Jan 2002 and women were interviewed when their children were 9 months old about their drinking patterns during pregnancy and other social and economic factors.

The participants were quizzed again about their children's behaviours at the age of 3. And when the children were 5 years, their behavioral and intellectual development were evaluated.

The researchers found fewer than 6 percent of the mothers never drank, 60 percent chose to abstain during pregnancy.  About 26 percent reported they were light drinkers, 5 percent moderate drinkers and 2.5 percent heavy or binge drinkers during pregnancy.

children whose mothers were heavy drinkers were at high risk of being hyperactive and having behavioral and emotional problems than those born to mothers who chose not to abstain during pregnancy, the study found.

Children born to light drinkers were not at higher risk to have behavioral or intellectual problems . Even more interestingly, these children were found actually 30 percent less likely to have behavioral problems than children whose mother did not drink during pregnancy.

Even better, these children, after considering other risk factors, were found to have higher cognitive scores than those whose mothers did not drink alcohol at all.

A health observer told foodconsumer.org that pregnant women should not take chances when it comes to drinking alcohol as evidence is abundant that drinking alcohol, particularly moderate and binge drinking during pregnancy can result in a range of health conditions in children.

The following are some studies reported recently to give readers some ideas about what damage alcohol can do to fetuses.

Prenatal Alcohol consumption Linked to Placenta-Associated Syndromes

Salihu H.M. and colleagues at the University of South Florida published a study in the June 30 2010 issue  of Alcohol saying that pregnant drinkers were more likely to have children with placenta-associated syndromes.

Placenta-associated syndromes or PASs was defined as problems such as placental abruption, placenta previa, preeclampsia, small for gestational age. preterm or stillbirth.

The researchers found compared to nondrinkers, those who drank were 26 percent more likely to have children with PASs.  Increased prenatal alcohol consumption led to increased risk of PASs.  Women with lowest intake of alcohol were at lowest risk of having children with PASs - about 10 percent higher compared to those who did not drink alcohol during pregnancy.

Toutain S and colleagues from Cesames université Paris Descartes studied 170 babies to see how their mothers drinking habits affect their health.

Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy Linked to Premature Delivery and Hospitalization

The researchers found drinking alcohol during pregnancy increased premature delivery risk by 30 percent and hospitalization in the neonatology hospital unit 60.7 percent. 

They also found children whose mothers drank during pregnancy were 18 percent more often diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and 18 percent more often placed in a foster family.

The findings were reported in the Sep 2010 issue of Archives of Pediatrics.

Low Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Linked to Disrupted Physiology in Children

Ouellet-Morin I and colleagues from  King's College London conducted a study of 130 children at the age of 19 months to demonstrate that even low levels of prenatal alcohol exposure can be harmful to children.

They reported in the Aug 18 2010 issue of Psychopharmacology that male children who experienced prenatal alcohol exposure had disrupted patterns of cortisone activity.

The researchers said their "findings challenge the existence of a "safe level" of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and have health implications."

Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Linked to Risk of Birth Defects.

O'Leary C.M. at Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Australia and colleagues  published a study in Sep 27 2010 issue of Pediatrics saying heavy prenatal alcohol exposure boosts risk of birth defects drastically.

The researchers compared  4714 women who were grouped based on the dose, pattern and timing of prenatal alcohol exposure and found heavy drinking in the first trimester were associated with 4.6 times higher risk of birth defects classified was ARBDs compared to nondrinking.

By Jimmy Downs and editing by Rachel Stockton

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