Is light drinking during pregnancy safe?

Women know that heavy drinking while pregnant is a dangerous idea, but what about an occasional glass of wine or beer? Data from a controversial new study, the latest to examine the effects of drinking during pregnancy, suggests that consuming up to one to two drinks per week while pregnant shows no harm to the child's development. However, health experts remain cautious. 

Published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Heath on October 5, the study focused on a young child's behavioral and psychological development, and was a follow-up to a previous study involving three-year-olds. But this time researchers wanted to rule out any possible delayed effects in older children.

Conducted by University College London and three other UK universities, researchers used data from more than 11,000 five-year-olds and extensively interviewed their mothers according to their drinking habits during pregnancy. Results yielded no evidence of harm - behaviorally, developmentally, or emotionally - in children whose mothers imbibed occasionally. In suprising results, children born to light drinkers were 30 percent less likely to have behavioral problems, and scored higher on cognitive tests, than children whose mothers abstained during pregnancy. The children of heavy-drinking mothers, however, exhibited far more behavioral and emotional problems.

"There's now a growing body of robust evidence that there is no increase in developmental difficulties associated with light drinking during pregnancy," said researcher Dr. Yvonne Kelly in an interview with the internet community website redOrbit, adding that women could use the study results to make "better decisions."

"Despite these findings, it is important to remember that 'light drinking' can mean different things to different people," said Chris Sorek, chief executive of UK alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware, in an interview with the BBC. "There is a risk that if pregnant women take this research as a green light to drink a small amount, they could become complacent, drink more than they think they are and inadvertently cause harm to their unborn child."

"There is no firm evidence that small amounts of cumulate alcohol consumption do not have an effect on the developing fetus," added Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor for Royal College of Midwives in the UK, in an interview with WedMD. "Because of this our advice to women remains the same; if you are planning to become pregnant [or] if you are pregnant, it is best to avoid drinking alcohol."

To read the study, visit