A new study has found that there is little substantive evidence that binge drinking while pregnant seriously harms the developing fetus.
Consistently heavy drinking throughout pregnancy has been associated with birth defects and subsequent neurological problems, but it is not known what impact binge drinking, in the absence of regular heavy drinking, might have. The study’s findings are based on a comprehensive review of published research on binge drinking and women who were either pregnant or trying to conceive.
Binge drinking was taken to mean consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in one go, equivalent to 60g of alcohol or 7.5 units.
The period under review spanned 35 years from 1970 to 2005, and reviewed more than 3500 articles, which were narrowed down to 14 pieces of relevant research.
The results indicated that there was little substantive evidence that binge drinking caused a range of problems, including miscarriage, stillbirth, abnormal birthweight or birth defects, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. But there was some suggestion that it might impair normal neurodevelopment, although the effects were generally quite small, say the authors. These included disinhibited behaviour, reduced verbal IQ, an increased tendency towards delinquent behaviour, learning problems and poorer academic performance.
They point out that the timing of binge drinking might be important. There may be more impact during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, for example.
This systematic review found no convincing evidence of adverse effects of prenatal binge drinking, except possibly on neuro developmental outcomes.
The authors suggest that further research is required, but suggest continuing to advise women to avoid binge drinking during pregnancy. But add ‘When pregnant women report isolated episodes of binge drinking in the absence of a consistently high daily alcohol intake, as is often the case, it is important to avoid inducing unnecessary anxiety, as, at present, the evidence of risk seems minimal’.
Source: Systematic review of the fetal effects of prenatal binge-drinking ournal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2007;61:1069-1073;doi:10.1136/jech.2006.054213