Binge drinkingLight drinking during pregnancy does not harm child behavioural or mental development according to a new study.

The abilities of 10,534 UK seven-year-olds, whose mothers had either abstained from alcohol or drank lightly (less than two units per week) while pregnant, were analysed.

UK government guidelines advise pregnant women to abstain from alcohol, and if they drink, to consume no more than two units a week.

Unlikely small amounts will impact
Prof Yvonne Kelly, co-author of the study in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) said: "We know heavy drinking during pregnancy has a very deleterious effect, but it is very unlikely that drinking small amounts will have an impact.

"It doesn't seem biologically plausible that small amounts of alcohol would affect development either way. The environment children grow up in is massively more important.

"While we have followed these children for the first seven years of their lives, further research is needed to detect whether any adverse effects from low levels of alcohol consumption in pregnancy emerge later in childhood."

Social, emotional and spatial skills
The study collected data from the Millennium Cohort Study, a national study of infants born in the UK between 2000-2002. When these children were nine months old their mothers were asked whether they had drunk alcohol during pregnancy.

Around 57% said they abstained during pregnancy and 23% were light drinkers. When the children reached the age of seven, their parents and school teachers were asked to assess their social and emotional behaviour, maths, reading and spatial skills.

Light drinkers have fewer behavioural problems
The study findings also hinted that boys born to light drinkers had fewer behavioural problems and better reading and spatial skills than those born to mothers who did not drink during pregnancy, but Prof Kelly urges people not to read too much into this.

"Where there are differences the differences are very small. Past studies have also suggested this - although it has been argued the differences may have arisen as light drinkers may come from a higher income or more educated background than abstainers."

A Department of Health spokesperson said the findings support their guidelines and will be incorporated into their ongoing review of alcohol advice.

Posted 18/04/2013 by richard.hook@pavpub.com