- Many doctors strongly advise moms-to-be not to drink
- There’s limited research about the risks of light drinking while pregnant, a new paper says
But the new paper calls for more research on the effects of light drinking on pregnancy in order to better understand potential risks and to find answers to the questions many mothers-to-be might have.
For instance, “women often ask about ‘safe’ levels of drinking during pregnancy — ‘but one glass is OK, isn’t it?'” Loubaba Mamluk, senior research associate in epidemiology at the University of Bristol in the UK and lead author of the paper, said in an email. “The distinction between light drinking and abstinence is indeed the point of most tension and confusion for health professionals and pregnant women.”
“We were surprised that this very important topic was not researched as widely as expected,” she said.
What about just a sip?
The new paper included a systematic review and analysis of previous studies on low alcohol consumption and pregnancy that were published between 1950 and July 2016.
“These were all representative studies of pregnant women or women trying to conceive who reported on their alcohol use before the baby was born,” Mamluk said.
The researchers found that there was a dearth of evidence demonstrating a clear “safe limit” or “detrimental impact” of light alcohol consumption on a pregnancy, they wrote.
The most common alcohol-related questions that Horsager-Boehrer hears from pregnant patients involve concerns about a single drink they might have had before they knew they were pregnant or having a sip of champagne at a special event, she said.
“The question is really, ‘What’s the chance that if I just have this glass of champagne at my sister’s wedding, is that going to be harmful?'” Horsager-Boehrer said, adding that her response is, “Nobody can quantify what that risk is. It is most likely low on the basis of the information we currently have, but you can’t be promised that and you don’t know that.”
Just because evidence for potential health risks associated with light drinking was not found in the new paper, that does not mean that there are no risks at all, she said.
“It is known that quantity and frequency of use, particularly binging, does correlate with increased risk,” Williams said about fetal alcohol syndrome.
“Why not give the child the chance not to have this potential limitation or health risk in their life? There are so many other factors one can worry about, so how about one less concern? There are all sorts of non-risk-based beverages or ways to relax or express one’s emotions that do not confer fetal or lifelong effects,” she said.
On the other hand, for the mom-to-be who might have had a cocktail or two before she knew she was pregnant, as long as she was not binge drinking, there is little evidence to suggest that she should be overcome with worry, according to the paper.