An Alcohol and Pregnancy Balancing Act?

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is not recommended

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) With all the changes happening to a woman's body during pregnancy, a glass of wine may seem enticing. The debate continues about whether a small amount of alcohol will hurt the baby.

A recent study did not find negative effects in children's balance based on whether their mother's drank moderately during pregnancy.

The kids of mothers who drank three to seven drinks a week while pregnant did not have poorer balance scores than children of women who did not drink.

Yet an independent expert not involved with the study notes that no amount of alcohol during pregnancy has been proven to be safe.

"Avoid alcohol during pregnancy."

The study, led by Rachel Humphriss, of the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, looked for possible links between mothers drinking during pregnancy and their children's balance at 10 years of age.

"A child's ability to balance is related to his neurological development," said Allison Hill, MD, an OB/GYN at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, who was not involved in this study.

The researchers assessed the balance of 6,915 British children, all aged 10, for whom the researchers also had information related to their mothers' drinking habits during pregnancy.

The kids' balance was assessed in three ways: walking a balance beam, remaining balanced in place (on a beam and then standing on one leg) with their eyes open and remaining balanced in place with their eyes closed.

Most of the women, 95.5 percent, consumed no alcohol or moderate amounts of three to seven glasses a week while pregnant.

They were divided into groups according to whether they drank 0 glasses, 1-2 glasses, 3-7 glasses or more than 7 glasses a week.

A glass was defined as "a pub measure of spirits, half a pint of lager or cider, a wine glass of wine."

The majority of the women, 71 percent, drank no alcohol during pregnancy. While 14 percent drank one to two glasses a week, 11 percent drank three to seven glasses a week.

The researchers found that women who drank moderately were more likely to be from a higher socioeconomic group.

Meanwhile, women who binge drank during pregnancy (at least four units per day) or did not drink at all were more likely to be in a lower socioeconomic group.

The researchers did not find any differences in the kids' balance based on their mothers' intake of alcohol during pregnancy if it was moderate to low.

The results of balance for the kids of mothers who binge drank during pregnancy was less consistent.

Meanwhile, the kids of women who drank moderately at 18 weeks of pregnancy actually had slightly better balance for standing in one place.

However, because women who drank moderately also had higher income and education, it is not possible to know if the higher socioeconomic aspects might contribute to the slightly better balance scores.

In addition, the study contains significant limitations, according to Dr. Hill.

"Most importantly, the study is retrospective," Dr. Hill said. "This means that women are asked to recall how much they drank during their pregnancy when the survey was taken ten years later."

Dr. Hill said it's generally expected that people underestimate their alcohol intake when they recall it.

"As the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology insists, there is no amount of alcohol that has been proven safe in pregnancy," Dr. Hill said.

"Asking patients to recall their intake is very different from a randomized controlled study," she said. "While a few studies have suggested that low to moderate alcohol intake may be safe, it has not been proven safe."

The study was published June 17 in the journal BMJ Open. the research was funded by the Alcohol Education and Research Council. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 16, 2013
Last Updated:
July 31, 2013