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Wait 9 Months, Don't Drink During Pregnancy

Alyssa Dweck MD's picture
Pregnant Woman

To drink or not to drink while pregnant - that is NEVER the question in my busy obstetrical practice, since my answer in unequivocally no. I read with curiosity and open mindedness a recent study from Denmark which not only suggests alcohol consumption in pregnancy is not harmful, but goes as far as to state that the mental and emotional well being of those kids exposed while in utero may be superior.

Janni Niclesen, a post-doctoral student at the University of Copenhagen, looked at data from the Danish National Birth Cohort, surveying 37,000 women from 1996-2002. Women were grouped based on abstinence, low or high alcohol intake. This study only included pregnant women who drank small quantities of alcohol. Serial questionnaires were administered. The kids were followed until age 7. Variables such as education level and socio-demographic factors, smoking, exercise and TV habits were controlled for. The results were surprising. The author states, “My conclusion was that seven year olds born to mothers who drank small quantities of alcohol during their pregnancies did significantly better emotionally and behaviourally at age seven that the children of mothers who did not drink anything during pregnancy.” In fact kids of moms who abstained, had poorer outcomes overall. It was eventually concluded that the cause of this was due to the large discrepancies found in the background characteristics of the participants. The study finds that there are big differences in lifestyle factors between women who drink alcohol and women who do not drink alcohol during pregnancy

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This study has limitations, however. The questionnaires themselves may be difficult to standardize and interpret. Recall bias likely exists for the women in the study over 7 years time and many may miscalculate the amount of alcohol they actually consumed. Numerous other confounding variables clearly exist from age 0-7, which would contribute to the emotional well-being and relationship health of the subjects. Finally, potential exists for problems not to be recognized by age 7 including issues with memory, language, activity level and executive functioning. Findings from this Danish Study are contradictory to others that suggest deleterious physical and emotional effects of alcohol in pregnancy, particularly with higher intake. In fact, even the author concludes that more research is needed to reach definitive conclusions and she quotes, “it is important to emphasize that this is not an invitation to pregnant women to drink alcohol”.

The truth is, a safe level of alcohol has not been determined during pregnancy. The US Surgeon General and Secretary of Health and Human Services unequivocally recommends abstinence from alcohol for women planning pregnancy, at conception and during pregnancy. In fact, national guidelines in several other countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, and the United Kingdom also recommend complete abstinence.

In this day and age when we not only hope for, but also expect perfection, why take a chance on the unknown with something so precious. Seems to me, waiting nine months for a glass of wine will make it that much sweeter, or dryer as the case may be.

Prenatal Alcohol Exposure: Consequences of Imbibing During Pregnancy