For those not old enough to remember first hand, watching an episode of Mad Men can prove informative when it comes to how a woman’s actions were once viewed during pregnancy. The societal taboos of today while pregnant, smoking and drinking, were embraced as part of everyday life, as one could expect to have a neighbor offer an mother-to-be a light or a cocktail rather than a lecture and a series of dirty looks.
Thanks to advances made in prenatal and diagnostic medicine over the last 40 years, doctors and expectant mothers now take a more cautious approach when dealing with their child’s development. Research has shown that drinking and smoking can cause a variety of health problems for infants that range from low birth weight to cognitive developmental problems. However, a new study from Britain suggests that previous generations of mothers may not have inadvertently harmed the health of their child by drinking when pregnant.
Researchers have found that women who drink moderately during pregnancy don’t appear to have any higher risk of delivering a child who will experience neurodevelopmental problems.
To assess the long-term impact drinking had on a child’s development, researchers at the University of Bristol’s School of Social and Community Medicine tested approximately 7,000 10-year-olds on their ability to balance, an examination method that reliably reflects fetal neurodevelopment. For the purposes of the study, “moderate” drinking was considered as a women having between three to seven drinks a week.
While researchers caution that outside factors such as education and wealth may also play a role in the study’s findings, no strong evidence suggests that moderate drinking either harms or benefits a child during pregnancy.
The findings of the study, which published online in the journal BMJ Open, come shortly after a previous British study that found no connection between light drinking (one or two drinks a week) and an increased risk of mental disabilities in their children.
Drinking and Pregnancy
As part of the latest study, researchers focused their data on over 6,900 children living in southwestern England who participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a long-term health project that involves over 14,000 mothers who enrolled in the program between 1991 and 1992.
Researchers first analyzed the self-reported drinking habits of mothers at both the 18-week mark of pregnancy and again when their child had turned four. The majority of women involved in the study, 70 percent, claimed to have drank no alcohol during their pregnancy, while 25 percent admitted to drinking light to moderate amounts of alcohol weekly. Among this group of women, roughly one out of seven admitted to engaging in binge drinking, which constitutes having at least four drinks in one sitting.
By the time their children had turned four, half of the mothers involved in the study admitted engaging in a moderate level of drinking each week. Researchers noted that the majority of women who drank moderately tended to be better educated, more affluent, and older.
By the time the children had turned 10, researchers had them undergo two tests designed to test their balance. Children were asked to walk across a balance beam, which helped to assess their dynamic balance, and to stand heal-to-toe on a beam with their open and closed, an exam that assess static balance. Researchers also had the children stand on one leg with their eyes closed and then opened.
The results of these tests showed that moderate drinking during pregnancy appeared to improve a child’s balance overall, particularly when it came to their static balance.
A Changing Perspective?
Despite the results of the study, the majority of doctors have little plans for advising patients to drink during pregnancy. Self reported alcohol consumption is not always the most reliable means of determining how much a person drinks, especially when relating to pregnant women who might worry about societal stigmas related to alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
However, as further research begins to emerge relating to alcohol and pregnancy it seems clearer that a woman who wants to enjoy one or two drinks a week can do so without worrying about the health of her baby.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance health and science writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of API/AMS, a precision machining Portland shop.