As predicted, some public health officials are taking exception to study results published last week suggesting it's okay for pregnant women to consume moderate amounts of alcohol.
Experts at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine say it is not okay.
At the center of the controversy, Danish researchers said 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 also did not affect their offspring.
The finding were published in the international medical journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, BJOG.
Danish study misleading
The UC San Diego researchers disagree. Kenneth Lyons Jones, MD, professor in the UCSD Department of Pediatrics and a renowned expert in birth defects, and Christina Chambers, MPH, PhD, director of the California Teratogen Information Service (CTIS) Pregnancy Health Information Line, say these studies are misleading to pregnant women, citing more than 30 years of research to the contrary.
“This series of studies collected data on alcohol exposure during an interview conducted sometime between 7 and 39 weeks of pregnancy. The quantity and frequency of alcohol consumed was based on mother’s recall which may not be accurate,” said Jones who was one of the first doctors to identify Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in 1973.
The series of studies analyzed data from more than 1,600 women in the Danish National Birth Cohort. The amount of alcohol consumed by the women during their pregnancy was classified as either none, low, moderate, or high.
In addition, binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks on a single occasion. When the child reached the age of five, the children underwent various development tests. Researchers found no significant association between prenatal alcohol consumption at low and moderate levels and general intelligence, attention, executive function or IQ.
Study weaknesses cited
However, only half of the women invited in the follow-up studies agreed to participate, the U.S. experts note. It is possible that those women who drank during pregnancy and who agreed to participate were more likely to have higher functioning children.
Chambers, a UCSD School of Medicine professor, pointed to what she called the overwhelming evidence of more than 30 years of research supporting the conclusion that alcohol, especially alcohol consumed in a binge pattern, can be harmful to the developing baby.
“Individual women metabolize alcohol differently, and vary in terms of how susceptible they may be to having an affected child,” Chambers said. “Although we do not want to alarm women who find out they are pregnant and realize that they have consumed low levels of alcohol before they knew they were pregnant, we emphasize that a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol that any individual woman can drink while pregnant is impossible to establish. The best advice continues to be that women should avoid alcohol entirely during the nine months that she is carrying the baby.”