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Is it really moderate drinking during pregnancy is safe for the baby?

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By David Liu, PHD

Sunday 06/24/2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- Moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy does not affect the baby's development and intelligence or intelligence quotient (IQ), researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark suggest.  Also moderately drinking alcohol was not found to affect pregnant women in the study.

The study showed children at age 5 whose mothers drank 1 to 6 servings of alcohol per week during pregnancy were as intelligent and well-developed as children born to mothers who did not drink alcohol during pregnancy.

Children born to mothers who drank more than 5 drinks per week on a single occasion for a limited number of times before realizing that they were pregnant might not be affected, researchers reported in the well-reputed international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology.

The study involved 1,628 Danish children registered in the Danish National Birth Cohort 'Better Health for Mother and Child', which collected information on prenatal alcohol consumption or exposure.

For the study, the five-year-old children's IQ, attention span and executive functions were evaluated to assess their abilities in planning, organizing and sustaining attention.

Moderate alcohol consumption was defined as 5-8 drinks per week.

A health observer suggested this study does not have a final say about the safety about prenatal alcohol consumption.   Much of previous research has suggested women drinking alcohol while pregnant can harm their babies.  After all, alcoholic drinks are carcinogens, according to the U.S. National Toxicology Program.

Another study in the April 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research suggests prenatal exposure to alcohol may result in a spectrum of abnormalities, or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders including symptoms like smooth philtrum, thin vermillion border, short palpebral fissures, microcephaly, and growth deficiencies in weight and height. 

Haruna Sawada Feldman of University of California, San Diego, coauthor of the study, said "The most significant associations were seen during the second half of the first trimester; for every one drink increase in the average number of drinks consumed daily, there was a 25 percent increased risk for smooth philtrum, a 22 percent increased risk for thin vermillion border, a 12 percent increased risk for microcephaly, a 16 percent increased risk for reduced birth weight, and an 18 percent increased risk for reduced birth length."

"This paper clearly illustrates that drinking alcohol, especially binge drinking, during the first seven to 12 weeks of gestation is associated with four of the most important facial features characteristic of FAS as well as reductions in birth length and weight that are also characteristic of infants and children with FAS," said Philip A. May, research professor at The University of North Carolina who also participated in the study.

"This study also illustrates clearly that there is no threshold that triggers these features of FAS. Instead there is variability from woman to woman in the level of drinking that produces these features."

No pregnant women should drink any amount of alcohol during pregnancy, the health observer cautioned.  Also it has been known that drinking alcohol increases risk of breast cancer in women.   Because of high levels of estrogen during pregnancy, alcohol may has even a worse effect on the risk of the disease.

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