Alcohol in early pregnancy may not be such a bad thing.
No, that headline is not a typo! According to a surprising new study from Australian researchers, children of women who were light or moderate drinkers early in pregnancy (two to six drinks per week or one per day) tended to demonstrate “more positive” behaviors than the children of mothers who did not drink at all in early pregnancy.
In the study, published online May 28, 2010, in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers first obtained information from women on their drinking habits during early pregnancy: 59 percent of women did not consume alcohol; 20 percent reported occasional drinking (up to one drink per week); 15 percent reported light drinking (two to six drinks per week); 3 percent moderate drinking (seven to 10 per week); and 2 percent reported heavy drinking (11 or more per week). The group of 2,370 children born to these women then underwent psychological testing every two to three years between the ages of 2 and 14.
According to researchers, children of light to moderate drinkers had a “clinically meaningful” lower risk of showing signs of depression and aggression, compared to compared children born to women who did not drink in the first three months of pregnancy.
“This positive behavior meant that the children of light and moderate drinkers had less emotional and behavioral problems through childhood and adolescence,” Dr. Monique Robinson, from Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in West Perth, Western Australia, tells Reuters Health.
Other alcohol consumption studies have documented that moderate drinkers are mentally healthier than both abstainers and addicts, which could help explain these findings. Biologically, researchers explain, low doses of alcohol in pregnancy may help calm the mother-to-be, perhaps yielding calming kids.
There’s still much research to be done on the topic of whether or not recommendations about alcohol and pregnancy should be revised, but for “women [who] may be drinking alcohol in small amounts prior to recognition of the pregnancy … We feel these data highlight that it is unlikely that this has harmed their unborn child’s mental health,” Robinson tells Reuters Health.
But light to moderate drinking is not the same as heavy drinking, which other studies have linked to developmental problems for babies. “Women should not feel guilty or anxious about low-level drinking effects prior to recognition of the pregnancy. However, binge and large alcohol intake should still be avoided as this does have potential for harm,” Robinson emphasizes.