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Is Drinking While Pregnant Safer Than We Thought?

Kids' brains seem unaffected—but experts still recommend that moms-to-be don't drink.

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By Ariel Nagi

06/20/12

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Drinking low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy may not have any developmental effects on children five years later, according to a new Danish study. Researchers tested the children of 1,600 women with different drinking habits during pregnancy: either no booze at all, or one-to-four, five-to-eight, or nine-plus drinks per week. The kids whose moms drank up to eight drinks weekly performed no worse on tests for IQ, attention span and executive functions like organization and planning. But the kids whose moms drank nine drinks plus per week did have lower attention spans. Despite these results, the study's authors—and doctors—still advise that women abstain from alcohol completely during pregnancy. Other studies still show that women who drink heavily during pregnancy increase their chances of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: a baby's body takes longer to break down alcohol, which therefore lingers in the bloodstream. And there's still inadequate evidence on the effects of low-to-moderate drinking on a fetus: "No one study takes into account the myriad of relevant factors such as maternal drinking pattern, differences in maternal metabolism, differences in genetic susceptibility, timing of the alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and variation in the vulnerability of different brain regions," says Dr. Hyagriv Simhan, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. "Furthermore, this study addresses outcomes at age five, but not later in childhood, and it's possible that effects may be identifiable later on but not noticed by age five." The best advice? Better safe than sorry.

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