Children whose mothers drank up to eight alcoholic beverages a week in early to mid-pregnancy showed no significant signs of mental problems at age five, according to a CDC-funded study published in BJOG.
Study methodology and findings
Researchers in 2003 surveyed pregnant women in Denmark about their drinking habits during their first 17 weeks of pregnancy. The women had an average maternal age of 30 years old and more than half were first-time mothers.
According to the study, light drinking while pregnant in Denmark is not widely considered a health concern and a "drink" contains 12 grams of pure alcohol.
Of the drinking behaviors reported:
Less than 50% of pregnant women abstained from alcohol;
More than 40% reported drinking one to four drinks a week;
More than 10% reported drinking five to eight drinks per week; and
About 1% drank more than eight drinks per week.
Nearly 40% of participants from all drinking groups reported one binge-drinking episode—five or more drinks in one session—and nearly 75% of those episodes occurred in the first two months of pregnancy.
Researchers in 2008 studied the 1,628 now five-year-old children of the women on their IQs, attention spans and decision-making skills. Their answers were measured on the revised Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, Test of Everyday Attention for Children at Five, and Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function.
Conclusion: No clear link between booze and baby development
Researchers wrote that they found no "significant association of low to moderate average weekly alcohol consumption, and any binge drinking, during early to mid pregnancy with the neurodevelopment of children at the age of five years."
The CDC however is not rushing to change its recommendations regarding alcohol consumption while pregnant, as the effects of heavier regular drinking were unclear.
Researchers noted deficits in major mental outcomes among those five-year-olds whose mothers reported more than 8 drinks per week during their pregnancy. Since there were only 20 such mother-child pairs in the study, a statistical significance could not be reached.
"As alcohol is a known teratogen, it remains the most conservative advice for women to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy," researchers wrote in the study. It is also possible that alcohol-related development issues do not become apparent until later in life.
Researchers wrote women should abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, but that "small quantities consumed occasionally do not appear to pose serious issues" for the neurological development of the fetus (Hensley, "Shots," NPR, 6/20; Gever, MedPage Today, 6/20).