Drinking alcohol early in pregnancy, even in small amounts, increases chances of harming your baby, study finds

 

Science Editor

Women who drink less than the officially recommended intake of alcohol during the first weeks of pregnancy may still be at higher risk of having smaller babies or of giving birth prematurely compared to women who do not drink alcohol at all, a study has found.

The Department of Health recommends that women should not drink during pregnancy but accepts that some women do and so has recommended that in such cases they drink no more than one or two units of alcohol – equivalent to a small glass of wine – and no more than once or twice a week.

However, the first study to follow a group of British women both before and during pregnancy has found even such small amounts of alcohol each week can have a significant effect on the birth-weight of babies and whether they are born prematurely, which are both linked with poor health later in life.

“We found that the first trimester [12 weeks] to be the period most sensitive to the effect of alcohol on the developing foetus,” the researchers said in a study involved nearly 1,300 pregnant women, published in the British Medical Journal.

“Women adhering to guidelines in this period were still at increased risk of adverse birth outcomes. Our findings suggest that women should be advised to abstain from alcohol when planning to conceive and throughout pregnancy,” the researchers said.

The researchers, led by Professor Janet Cade of Leeds University, asked the women to complete a questionnaire of their drinking habits for four time periods: four weeks before conception and for each subsequent three-months or trimesters of the pregnancy.

Alcohol consumption was significantly higher before conception and in the first three months of pregnancy than in the subsequent two trimesters. The weekly intake of alcohol averaged 11 units initially, falling to four units and then two units as the pregnancy advanced.

Just over half, 53 per cent, of the women said they drank more than the maximum recommended limit of two units per week during the first trimester, and almost 40 per cent said they drank more than 10 units a week in the four weeks leading up to conception when they may not have been aware of becoming pregnant as about 40 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned.

Those who drank more than two units a week were more likely to be older, educated to degree level, of white ethnicity and more likely to live in affluent areas of the city, the researchers found.

The study also found an association between the 13 per cent of the babies born to this group who were underweight, the 4.4 per cent who were smaller than expected and the 4.3 per cent of babies who were born prematurely.

Professor Cade said that women who drank more than the recommended two weekly units were twice as likely to give birth to an unexpectedly small or premature baby than women who abstained completely, but she emphasised that the link did not prove cause and effect.

“The advice is, if you are thinking of getting pregnant, keep off the alcohol, and if you find yourself pregnant and have been drinking alcohol, don’t worry as the effect will still be small,” Professor Cade said.

ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

    £30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

    Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

    Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

    Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

    £30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before