Even an Occasional Drink Early in Pregnancy Can Cause Premature Birth, Study Shows

Filed under: In The News, Alcohol & Drugs, Expert Advice: Pregnancy

pregnancy and drinking

A new study may cause you to rethink drinking while you're pregnant. Credit: Getty Images


Step away from the chardonnay.

The debate over how much alcohol -- if any -- is safe to drink during pregnancy has been raging for decades, but a new study published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth finds even occasional drinking can result in premature babies.

According to a new release, researchers in Dublin looked at how much alcohol women drank during their early pregnancies to discover the effect it had on their babies.

More than 60,000 pregnant women were questioned during their hospital booking interview, which usually took place 10 to 12 weeks after conception, the release states. Women were asked about their home lives, whether they worked, what their nationality was and about their drinking habits prior to their antenatal booking visit. Answers were compared to birth record data and records from the special care baby unit.

About a fifth of the women told researchers they never drank, while 71 percent claimed to be occasional drinkers (zero to five units a week), according to the study. There was one case of fetal alcohol syndrome among this low-alcohol group, the release states, so researchers say it's likely some women underestimated or under-reported the amount they drank.

In general, the researchers say, fetal alcohol syndrome occurred less frequently than expected in the study, suggesting it is either not recognized by medical staff or only becomes apparent after the mother and baby have left the hospital.

Ten percent of the pregnant women drank a moderate amount of alcohol (six to 20 units a week), the release states. These women also were more likely to smoke, work and have private health care compared to those who never drank. Only two in 1,000 said they were heavy drinkers (more than 20 units per week). These women were most likely to be young and to have used illegal drugs.

The study shows moderate and heavy drinkers were often first time mothers, and unplanned pregnancies were associated with heavy drinking, according to the release.

Heavy drinking was also related to very premature birth. However, there was no difference in the occurrence of congenital or other birth defects regardless of the amount of alcohol women drank, the release states.

"This study emphasizes the need for improved detection of alcohol misuse in pregnancy and for early intervention in order to minimize the risks to the developing fetus," Prof. Deirdre J. Murphy, of Trinity College in Dublin, says in the release. "We would recommend that further research is required before even low amounts of alcohol can be considered safe."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.