Avoiding alcohol while pregnant is safest, experts say

Avoiding alcohol while pregnant is safest, experts say

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

"While this study adds to the evidence that drinking one to two units of alcohol a week after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is unlikely to have a harmful impact on the baby or pregnancy, we can not rule out the risks altogether".

A trawl for research on the topic found "a surprisingly limited number" of studies into low alcohol consumption during pregnancy, a team wrote in the journal BMJ Open.

While it does not say light drinking is safe, the research does highlight the weak evidence on which government advice is based, they said.

Experts in Australia have warned pregnant woman against drinking, despite a United Kingdom study arriving at a different conclusion.

The analysis showed that drinking up to four units a week while pregnant, on average, was associated with an eight per cent higher risk of having a small baby, compared with drinking no alcohol at all.

The study systematically reviewed all the data from a wide range of high quality observational studies on the impact of light drinking - around 32g of alcohol, which works out at three standard drinks in Irish units.

The UK's Chief Medical Officer commissioned the review into alcohol's effect on pregnancy because of how much "tension and confusion" the matter sparks between health professionals and women who are with child.

There was also some evidence of a heightened risk of premature birth, but this was less clear.

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Very few studies have so far compared light to non-drinkers, and there is lack of evidence on most other outcomes for the baby, including development, behaviour, cognitive impairment, greater problems in pregnancy or a more complicated delivery.

The researchers stressed this does not mean alcohol is safe - and they recommended pregnant women abstain in case.

"In addition, there has been no evidence regarding possible benefits of light alcohol consumption versus abstinence".

"Formulating guidance on the basis of the current evidence is challenging", the researchers mused, which is a delicate way of saying "It's impossible to say one way or another".

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

"We know that alcohol can cause harm both at a cellular level and a clinical level therefore the precautionary approach is safest and one of the reasons is that often people who are given the go-ahead to drink will drink more than they are advised to drink".

"Evidence of the effects of drinking up to 32 g/week in pregnancy is sparse".

"As a precaution, we advise pregnant women to avoid alcohol and this advice is supported by the Royal College of Midwives and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG)".

A standard 175ml glass of red, white or rose wine with a ABV of 12 percent contains 2.1 units.