For decades, pregnant women were told to abstain from alcohol entirely, no ifs, ands, or buts. But a set of new studies from Denmark add to the mounting canon of evidence suggesting that, yes, it may in fact be perfectly okay for soon-to-be-mothers to have a drink once in awhile. But don't raise your glasses quite yet. Here's what you need to know if you choose to imbibe:
How were the studies conducted?
Five new papers published in the obstetrics and gynecology journal BJOG took a look at more than 1,600 Danish women and their children, and compared kids born to nondrinkers with those who had parents that could be classified as light drinkers (one to four drinks a week), moderate drinkers (five to eight drinks a week), and heavy drinkers (nine or more a week). Binge drinking was also classified as five drinks in one session. Researchers controlled for outside factors, such as smoking and the mother's intelligence.
What did they find?
By the time children reached age 5, light, moderate, and strangely enough, even binge drinking while pregnant didn't have any discernible effect on a child's overall IQ, attention spans, or self-control. The same wasn't true for women classified as heavy drinkers: Their 5-year-olds had noticeably shorter attention spans compared to their counterparts. (It's worth noting that an alcoholic drink in Denmark is defined as 0.4 ounces of pure alcohol; in the U.S. it's 0.6 ounces.)
Are the findings definitive?
The results are hardly the last word on the matter; many doctors still warn against potential disorders that the study may not have accounted for. "I would still caution women about drinking during their pregnancies," Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, tells HealthDay. "There may be subtle neurobehavioral changes that were not picked up in the study."
So what now?
"Although it's still best for pregnant women to avoid alcohol, these results suggest that small amounts may not be a serious concern," says HealthDay. "The occasional beer or glass of wine during pregnancy seems increasingly unlikely to do damage, but it's worth remembering that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are still the largest known cause of intellectual disability in children," says Maia Szalavitz at TIME. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still urge women not to drink at any time while pregnant, says Dr. Jacquelyn Betrand, who represents the CDC and served as co-author of three of the studies: "This study doesn't change our recommendation."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Watch out, China — America is working on dogfighting drones
- How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover revealed the worst of both shows
- Why America won't have enough money to battle ISIS
- The troubling persistence of eugenicist thought in modern America
- Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon
- Libertarianism's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
Subscribe to the Week