Friday, November 07, 2008

In Utero Drinking is Good for Children?!?!

A recent study |PDF|published in the International Journal of Epidemiology turns conventional wisdom on its head by
suggesting that light drinking during pregnancy could actually be beneficial to a child's long term health and development.

From the abstract:

Children born to mothers who drink lightly during pregnancy – as defined as 1–2 units per week or per occasion – are not at increased risk of behavioural difficulties or cognitive deficits compared with children of abstinent mothers... [The study] uses data on 12,495 three year-old children, looking at the mothers’ drinking patterns during pregnancy and assessments of the behavioural and cognitive outcomes of their children... “The link between heavy drinking during pregnancy and consequent poor behavioural and cognitive outcomes in children is well established. However, very few studies have considered whether light drinking in pregnancy is a risk for behavioural and cognitive problems in children.

“Our research has found that light drinking by pregnant mothers does not increase the risk of behavioural difficulties or cognitive deficits. Indeed, for some behavioural and cognitive outcomes, children born to light drinkers were less likely to have problems compared to children of abstinent mothers, although children born to heavy drinkers were more likely to have problems compared to children of mothers who drank nothing whilst pregnant.”

The study data shows that boys born to mothers who drank lightly were 40 per cent less likely to have ‘conduct’ problems and 30 per cent less likely to have hyperactivity, even when a range of family and socioeconomic factors were taken into account. Boys born to light drinkers also had higher scores on tests of vocabulary and whether they could identify colours, shapes, letters and numbers compared to those born to abstainers.

Girls born to light drinkers were 30 per cent less likely to have emotional symptoms and peer problems compared with those born to abstainers, although this appeared partially explained by family and social backgrounds.

Dr Kelly continued: “The reasons behind these findings might in part be because light drinkers tend to be more socially advantaged than abstainers, rather than being due to the physical benefits of low level alcohol consumption seen, for example, in heart disease. However, it may also be that light-drinking mothers tend to be more relaxed themselves and this contributes to better behavioural and cognitive outcomes in their children.” |Light drinking in pregnancy not bad for children, says UCL study|(emphasis added)

I think it's important to distinguish light drinking from binge drinking, binge drinking is not healthy for the anyone... much less a developing fetus. But it seems correct to me that reasonable amounts of alcohol should be well tolerated by fetuses given the importance of alcohol to many societies across the history of humanity.

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