Drinking one or two glasses of wine a week while pregnant could reduce the IQ of the child, a study of 4,000 women suggests. But will pregnant women take the latest advice?
Medical experts already recommend that drinking heavily while pregnant should be avoided. But the advice on light or moderate alcohol consumption has been more mixed and often unclear.
Now a new study from researchers at Oxford and Bristol universities appears to suggest that even light drinking affected the IQ of the child.
It found that the offspring of women who drank between one and six units of alcohol a week were 1.8 IQ points less intelligent when they were tested at the age of eight, than peers whose mothers had completely abstained.
This is a complex study but the message is simple: even moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can have an effect on future child intelligence. Dr Ron Gray, Oxford University
The study, published in the PLOS One journal, looked at changes to genes and therefore ruled out social or lifestyle factors.
The scientists studied four genetic variants that influence the body’s ability to metabolise, or break down, alcohol. They also questioned mothers about their drinking habits while they were pregnant.
Their results showed a lowering of IQ for those children whose genes are more susceptible to alcohol and whose mothers consumed between one and six units of alcohol per week.
@channel4news Moderate drinking was advice. Wanted red wine a la French mothers. I was repelled by the smell so small Guiness now & then.
— Tamar Millen (@tamarmillen) November 15, 2012
Lead researcher Dr Ron Gray, from Oxford University, said: “This is a complex study but the message is simple: even moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can have an effect on future child intelligence. So women have a good reason to choose to avoid alcohol when pregnant.”
Dr Sarah Lewis, from the University of Bristol, said the research showed that levels of alcohol that are normally considered harmless can have an impact on childhood IQ.
“This is evidence that even at these moderate levels, alcohol is influencing foetal brain development,” she added.
@channel4news I tried stout because it’s full or iron & supposed to be good for the baby, hated it and didn’t drink throughout my pregnancy
— Sam Billingham(@Sammieb1980) November 15, 2012
Dietician Catherine Collins, from St George’s Hospital NHS Trust in London, said alcohol was likely to stay longer in the bodies of unborn babies with the susceptibility genes and do more damage.
But she added: “What do mums take from this? Unfortunately it’s a bit of a gene lottery. If your child has a particular gene profile, drinking any alcohol in pregnancy will have an effect on IQ – but, and it’s a big but – your child may not have one of those identified gene defects, and so the effect is negligible.”
The research forms part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (Alspac), which enrolled more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992.
Alspac scientists have been closely scrutinising the health and development of the women and their children since the start of the investigation.
@channel4news Moderate (as per advice) & beer only. 12 yr old has reading age of 16, so not feeling guilty.
— Jill Hayward (@frdragonspouse) November 15, 2012