For pregnant women who might feel inclined to sip on the occasional glass of wine, the advice out there can be more than a little confusing. How bad can it really be, right? Different doctors might have contradictory opinions; while some recommend avoiding alcohol completely, others are a bit more lenient. (Don’t miss the nine pregnancy myths doctors want you to ignore—and three that are actually true.)
New research published in the journal BMJ Open suggests that pregnant women who drink up to two standard glasses of wine a week are unlikely to harm their unborn baby. But scientists still advise pregnant women to avoid alcohol as a precaution.
After reviewing 5,000 studies and selecting 26, researchers at Bristol University analyzed the prenatal impact of light drinking of two units up to twice a week, or four units a week, as compared with no alcohol at all. They specifically looked at complications of pregnancy—such as miscarriage, premature birth, and undersized babies—as well as long-term issues, including developmental delays, impaired intellect, and behavioral challenges.
On average, drinking up to four units of alcohol a week while pregnant was associated with an eight percent higher risk of having an undersized baby and a 10 percent increased risk of a premature birth as compared to drinking no alcohol. By comparison, light or moderate smoking less than 20 cigarettes per day was associated with a 22 percent increased risk.
“In conclusion, we found limited evidence for a causal role of light drinking in pregnancy, compared with abstaining, on most of the outcomes examined,” senior research associate Dr. Loubaba Mamluk said.
Nevertheless, previous studies have shown that heavy drinking while pregnant can cause birth defects. So what’s an expectant mother to believe? Since no amount of alcohol has been deemed “safe” for pregnant women, most experts recommend not taking the risk of harming your baby by drinking alcohol. Here’s how to prevent birth defects before and during your pregnancy.
Bottom line: Until there’s more research on the topic, it’s probably still best to avoid alcohol altogether while pregnant. Try munching on some of these great snacks to eat when you’re expecting, instead.