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Drinking while pregnant 'does not affect' baby's development

Moderate drinking during pregnancy does not seem to harm baby's development, a study published in BMJ Open appears to show. 

Drinking between 3 -7 glasses of alcohol a week may not harm foetal neurodevelopment as judged by the child's ability to balance, a large study suggests. 

However, better educated, more affluent mothers-to-be tend to drink more than women who are less well off, which may be a factor according to the researchers. 

Balance assessment

Researchers from the University of Bristol studied 7,000 ten year olds who were part of a longitudinal study into parents and children in Avon. 

Children whose mothers' alcohol consumption during (18 weeks) and after pregnancy (47 months) was measured underwent a 20 minute balance assessment when they reached the age of ten. 

The assessment included dynamic balance (walking on a beam); and static balance (heel to toe balance on a beam, standing on one leg for 20 seconds) with eyes open and then again with eyes closed. Each child had two attempts at the test.

Most of the children's mums had drunk no alcohol (70%) while pregnant, while one in four drank between 1 and 2 (low consumption) and 3 and 7 glasses a week (moderate consumption).

The results show that after taking account of influential factors, such as age, smoking, and previous motherhood, low to moderate alcohol consumption did not seem to interfere with a child's ability to balance.

But in general, better static balance was associated with greater levels of affluence and educational attainment. 

And in this group of mums, moderate alcohol intake was a marker for social advantage, which may itself be the key factor in better balance, possibly overriding subtle harmful effects of moderate alcohol use, say the authors.