Drinking a few glasses of wine every week won’t harm a pregnant woman’s child, according to new research published in BMJ Open.

The study looked at what effects moderate drinking during pregnancy might have on fetal neurodevelopment.

Moderate drinking is characterized as consuming 3 to 7 glasses of alcohol per week.

A total of 7,000 ten year olds, who participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), were assessed in their ability to balance – an accurate indicator of prenatal neurodevelopment.

The study has been tracking the health of over 14,000 children born in the 1990s in Avon, UK.

The children whose mothers’ alcohol consumption during pregnancy was reported, underwent the 20 minute balance assessment twice.

The test involved:

  • Walking on a beam – which measured dynamic balance
  • Standing on one leg for 20 seconds with eyes open and closed – which measured static balance

The children’s fathers were also questioned about their alcohol intake during the mothers’ pregnancy. More than fifty percent of the men said they drank more than one glass a week and twenty percent said they drank more than one glass every day.

Seventy percent of the children’s mothers said that they didn’t drink any alcohol while they were pregnant. While the other 30 percent reported drinking between 1 to 7 glasses a week.

4.5% of the mothers said they drank more than 7 glasses of alcohol per week, of whom one in seven were classed as binge drinkers.

Girl with a glass of wine
Drinking a few glasses of wine every week shouldn’t be too much of a concern for healthy pregnant mothers, according to the authors.

After four years of giving birth to their child, 28 percent of the women didn’t drink alcohol, while over fifty percent reported drinking between 3 and 7+ glasses per week.

The mothers who were binge drinkers tended to be less well off and younger than the ones who were not binge drinkers.

Children whose mothers drank high amounts of alcohol before and after pregnancy performed slightly better in the test.

The researchers, surprised by the finding, conducted an additional analysis. They carried out blood tests on 4,335 women to identify genetic predisposition to low levels of alcohol consumption.

If drinking more during pregnancy was indeed beneficial to the children, then those with mothers who had the low alcohol gene would have poorer balance, the authors said.

The results indicated that children of women who had the low alcohol gene did not have worse balance than those whose mothers didn’t have the gene. In fact, their balance was slightly better.

In conclusion, the authors suggest that after taking into account some confounding factors, such as smoking and age, low to moderate alcohol consumption does not harm a baby’s neurodevelopment.

Children whose mothers were well educated and affluent had better static balance, the authors reported. They added that it is important to bear in mind that women who are wealthier and more educated drink more than those who are less affluent.

Similar research published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, indicated that moderate weekly alcohol consumption in early pregnancy is not associated with adverse neuropsychological effects in children aged five.

Alcohol abuse during pregnancy, however, can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

FAS is one of the leading known preventable causes of mental retardation and birth defects. FAS is characterized by:

  • Abnormal facial features
  • Growth deficiencies
  • Central nervous system (CNS) problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 0.2 to 1.5 per 1,000 live births are affected by FAS.

Children exposed to high alcohol levels during fetal development experience changes in brain structure and metabolism, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Leigh Tenkku, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Saint Louis University, said:

“The brains of individuals with FASD are not fully developed, which affects their ability to handle emotions, problem solve and pick up on social cues. As they get older, these problems affect their ability to maintain a job, their relationships and their parenting abilities.”

Written by Joseph Nordqvist