We all know the generally accepted rule. You must avoid drinking any alcohol when you’re pregnant.
Drinking while pregnant raises the possibility of the child suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome. This is a terrible condition that can lead to your child being born with misshapen facial features. It can also cause learning disabilities that affect the child into their adult life.
The reasoning behind this makes sense too. Alcoholic drinks contain some toxins, which your body needs to process. As an adult, you have a fully grown liver. Your liver is capable of dealing with the toxins in alcoholic drinks to the point where they don’t have a long-term effect. Again, this assume that you don’t drink to excess. Excessive drinking damages your liver to the point where it can’t do its job properly.
With foetal alcohol syndrome, you’re exposing your unborn child to the same effects of alcohol that you experience. However, the child’s liver isn’t fully developed. As a result, it has a much more difficult time of processing the alcohol that your body can handle.
So, that means that you shouldn’t drink at all when you’re pregnant, right? Even a single glass of Italian wine places your child at risk.
Not necessarily. Some studies suggest that a very moderate amount of alcohol won’t have a negative effect on your baby. Let’s take a look at what the research says in more depth.
The University of Zurich recently conducted a survey that suggests this dedication to not drinking while pregnant isn’t something that every woman sticks by. Researchers quizzed several women about their drinking habits while pregnant. Surprisingly, they found that 10% of the women surveyed has consumed alcohol within the last seven days.
That may seem irresponsible to some. However, it also suggests that the horror stories surrounding foetal alcohol syndrome may be exaggerated, at least a little. After all, if one in ten women drinks, then surely there should be many more cases of this condition occurring.
Now, let’s make it clear that we’re not saying that foetal alcohol syndrome doesn’t exist. It most certainly does. However, it seems like you don’t have to avoid alcohol entirely when you’re pregnant. The 10% of the women surveyed still drink, after all. This suggests that 10% of all women have the occasional glass of wine while pregnant. Yet foetal alcohol syndrome cases don’t appear to be on the rise.
But if that’s the case, how much is too much? Even if you can drink a little alcohol, the risk of the condition still means that you need to be careful.
Thankfully, other studies have examined the effects that alcohol can have on an unborn baby in more detail.
A collaborative study that took place in Bristol in the United Kingdom appears to show that a small amount of drinking won’t cause the damage that those who promote complete abstinence may claim.
Researchers examined the effects of light drinking on the babies of pregnant women. In this study, “light drinking” was classes as no more than four units of alcohol per week. For those who don’t know about alcohol units, this equates to two 175ml glasses of wine with an alcohol volume of 11.5%.
The study did find some slightly negative effects. It showed that drinking this amount of alcohol each week led to a slightly increased risk that a baby may be born smaller. However, this risk only rose by 8%. Furthermore, in the cases where this did happen, the baby was only between 2% and 14% smaller than average.
Most importantly, the study found no cases of foetal alcohol syndrome among the children that it examined.
The study helped to bridge a gap in our knowledge of the effects of drinking alcohol while pregnant. Namely, it offered one of very few comparisons that we have between drinking alcohol moderately and not drinking at all while pregnant.
Interestingly, a Danish study also examined the effects of drinking small amounts of alcohol while pregnant. This one examined the effects of drinking a single glass of wine per week are more likely to give birth to children who are both better behaved and more emotionally stable than those born to mothers who don’t drink.
This study is a little less cut and dry than the study conducted in Bristol. The Danish researchers made it a point to note that it’s likely that the lifestyles of the mothers had as much an effect on this development than anything else.
However, the important thing to note for this article is that the study, once again, found no cases of foetal alcohol syndrome arising from such a small consumption of wine per week.
These studies case new light onto the possibility of drinking while pregnant. It appears that it’s something that you don’t necessarily have to avoid. However, as is the case anyway, you must moderate your intake. Drinking to excess already has a damaging effect on your body. In the short-term, it leads to drunkenness and hangovers. Minor side-effects, sure, but effects that are amplified in an unborn child that does not yet have the liver to deal with excessive drinking.
Over the long-term, excessive drinking causes severe damage to both you and your baby. It seems to be drinking to excess that raises the risk of foetal alcohol syndrome.
But can we say that drinking moderately, at the volumes mentioned in these studies, definitely cannot cause foetal alcohol syndrome?
At this point, it’s impossible to say. These studies seem to indicate that it won’t, but the sample sizes likely aren’t large enough to draw a definitive conclusion. What they do show is that there’s perhaps less risk than you may have believed. Even in the case of the growth issue, the problem affects less than 1 in 10 children and doesn’t appear to cause major issues.
As for our opinion, it really comes down to what you’re comfortable with. It appears that you may be able to drink small amounts of Italian wine while pregnant. But many may not want to take the risk, no matter how small.
If you’re even in the slightest bit uncertain, make sure you talk to your doctor before making any decisions.
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