PhotoHere's a study that could well trigger some debate in medical circles. Researchers in the Netherlands says pregnant women consuming one to six alcoholic drinks per week -- note that's per week, not per day -- cause no harm to their offspring.

Current thinking is that women should completely avoid alcohol during pregnancy. But the researchers say they found children born to mothers who consumed fewer than six alcohol units per week were just as intelligent and well-developed as children of abstaining mothers.

Mothers who had been drinking five or more drinks on a single occasion a limited number of times before realizing that they were pregnant may also breathe a sigh of relief; their children have likely not been harmed, the researchers said.

The finding are published in the International Medical Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, BJOG.

Not so fast

Women should not take the study as a green light for drinking while pregnant. The researchers say it's still a good idea for mothers to be avoid alcohol.

"The Danish Health and Medicines Authority recommends pregnant women to abstain completely from alcohol consumption, but we know from other studies that about half of the pregnant women do not entirely stay away from alcohol during pregnancy, said Ulrik Schiøler Kesmodel, associate professor at Aarhus University who led the research. “Many of these mothers report binge episodes during the period before they even knew that they were pregnant. Now we have scientific evidence which may set their minds at ease.”

The study

The study focused on 1,628 Danish children registered in the Danish National Birth Cohort 'Better Health for Mother and Child', which includes information on mothers' alcohol habits during pregnancy.

The researchers analyzed five-year-old children, testing their IQ, attention span and executive functions in order to assess their abilities in planning, organizing and sustaining attention. They compared those abilities to children of mothers who completely abstained from alcohol and found virtually no differences between the groups.

While the research may prove controversial, Kesmodel says the findings are an important new contribution to the health information provided for pregnant women. He says the new findings may also send a message to the midwives and general practitioners who provide the women with health advice during pregnancy.

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