In spite of the headlines, please say, “No Thanks” to wine or any alcohol while pregnant
In June, you may have heard a loud ‘gasp’ from people who do research, prevention, or provide supports to persons with an FASD. Why? you may ask.
That is because comments and headlines were appearing in the media such as:
- “Moderate drinking in pregnancy not cause for alarm” (CBC)
- “Moderate drinking can mix with pregnancy, studies suggest” (Globe and Mail)
- "Light Drinking Said OK for Pregnant Women" (Discovery News)
- “...if I’m ever pregnant, I’m going to focus on the part where they say, ‘small amounts have not been shown to be harmful,’ and have a glass” (Besthealthmag.ca)
The Danish Study
These statements have appeared because of the Danish Study that was published by The BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in June. In this study, mothers were asked about their drinking at the time they were pregnant. Five years later, their children were examined to see if drinking had effects on IQ, attention span, and executive functions such as planning, organization, and self-control in their children. The study found that one to eight drinks a week had not harmed the children in these areas. Children of mothers who drank nine drinks or more a week had the risk of a low overall attention score when compared to children whose mothers did not drink. The publication still advises that no alcohol is still the safest option while pregnant.
Isn’t this good news for women who are worried about drinking while pregnant?
It is always troubling when the news highlights one part of a study and leaves other important details in the smaller print. Many people just read the headlines and miss the other information. It is also a concern when these kinds of results are publicized and other findings are not included.
In the past couple of weeks, experts have shared their thoughts. Unfortunately many people may only remember the headlines that say it is ok to drink while pregnant.
A major concern about this study is that five year old children’s brains aren’t fully developed. Many problems do not appear until they are attending school or in adolescence. Something else to keep in mind is that a 'drink' in Denmark is smaller than a standard 'drink' in the Canadian Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. A mother’s health and genetics can also play a role in how alcohol affects the baby.
Responses from experts
A response from Dr. Susan Astley and Dr. Therese Grant, the University of Washington, has been shared recently and did appear in the Seattle Times. Here are some of their concerns based on the work they do:
- One out of every seven children diagnosed with FAS (the most severe) had moms who had one to eight drinks a week. (The Danish study did not look for FAS).
- Half of these children had normal range developmental scores when they were preschoolers. They all had severe brain problems by the time they were ten. (The Danish study only looked at preschoolers).
- Only 10% of the children with FAS had attention problems by the time they were five. When they were ten, 60% had attention problems. (The Danish study only looked at attention at age five).
- Only 30% of the children with FAS had an IQ below normal. 100% had severe problems in other areas like language, memory and activity level. (The Danish study did not look at those areas).
Dr. Sterling Clarren, Scientific Director from the Canada FASD Research Network, is also concerned about media coverage of this study. He questions:
- Why do studies that show lower risks from drinking get more coverage?
- Why are stories written so people think that drinking is safer than the research shows?
He points out:
- Problems with IQ and attention show up when children are older than five.
- In a week, one drink a day is not as risky as having seven drinks at one time. They still both average seven drinks a week, though.
- Many people don’t know the definition of a drink.
We can understand the sigh of relief that many women may have experienced when they read the headlines. After all, many of us may have had a drink or two, or more, while pregnant. It is also tiring to be constantly told what we can and cannot do while pregnant.
Here is a final thought.
Alcohol is a teratogen, a substance that can interfere with the developing fetus. A teratogen can cause birth defects or miscarriages. In order to keep our babies safe, many of us have avoided German Measles, x-rays, mercury, and other poisons while pregnant. Should we not want to avoid alcohol as well?
BJOG release: Danish studies suggest low and moderate drinking in early pregnancy has no adverse effects on children aged five. (2012). http://www.rcog.org.uk/news/bjog-release-danish-studies-suggest-low-and-moderate-drinking-early-pregnancy-has-no-adverse-ef
Danish study doesn't change the answer: Don't drink while pregnant. (2012). http://depts.washington.edu/fasdpn/pdfs/astley-grant-Washington.pdf
Dr. Sterling Clarren. Letter to the Editor at the Globe and Mail. (July 5, 2012). http://www.canfasd.ca/files/PDF/Clarren_2012_o_Editor_GlobeandMail.pdf