DRINKING one or two units of alcohol a week during pregnancy does not harm a child’s development, British experts said yesterday.
Women can safely drink a 175ml glass of wine, a 50ml glass of spirits or just under a pint of beer each week without affecting intellectual or behavioural development, according to a new study.
But children born to mothers who drink heavily or binge drink (seven or more units a week or six at one sitting) are at higher risk of developing behavioural and emotional problems.
The finding adds to previous research which found light drinking has no negative effect on toddler development.
For the latest study, experts examined the risk of drinking on children up to the age of five.
The issue of how much is safe to drink during pregnancy has caused controversy in recent years.
In 2007, the British Department of Health published guidance saying pregnant women should avoid drinking alcohol altogether, as should those trying to conceive.
This replaced previous guidance which said it was safe for pregnant women to drink one to two units of alcohol per week.
The Government said its update was not based on new research, but was to provide consistent advice to all women.
Heavy drinking in pregnancy is linked to the Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) inchildren, which can cause a range of physical, mental and behavioural problems.
In the latest study, led by a team at University College London, experts questioned mothers in more than 11,000 households.
In the first phase, when babies were nine months old, mothers were asked about their drinking in pregnancy and other health aspects, such as smoking and socioeconomic status.
When the children were five, tests were carried out to assess their development, and questions were asked about their social and emotional behaviour. The results showed that boys and girls born to mothers who had one or two units of alcohol per week scored slightly higher on some tests than those born to mothers who had not touched alcohol in pregnancy.
In the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the authors concluded: “The findings of this paper and our previous work suggest that up to the age of five years there is no increased risk of poor socio-emotional or cognitive developmental outcomes in children born to mothers who drank not more than one or two units of alcohol per week during pregnancy.”
Dr Yvonne Kelly, from University College London, who led the study, said: “Our message is that there’s no increased risk of difficulties in children born to mothers who drink one to two units a week.”
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