The Truth about Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant

A new study breaks with decades of scientific and cultural consensus.

How much alcohol can you really drink while pregnant?

The official answer: None. No matter what you've heard from friends and family (and other pregnant women) throughout the years, that's been the definitive science-backed advice for pregnant women who'd like to indulge in a glass or two of their favorite beverage (usually wine, of course). Everyone from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking to the American Academy of Pediatrics is in agreement. In fact, the CDC's official position on the matter is summed up in this statement: "There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant."

Well, it appears that that could change.

According to according to a new study in BMJ Open, having some alcohol is actually okay: the apparent "safe" level of alcohol you can consume during pregnancy comes to 32 grams each week, or about roughly two beverages. This will likely be welcome news to mothers and aspiring mothers everywhere—per a 2015 CDC survey, 10.1 percent of pregnant women, between 18 and 44 years old, admit to drinking alcohol while pregnant. (Meanwhile, in the same survey, 3.1 percent of women reported binge-drinking while pregnant; suffice it to say, that's definitely not okay.)

The researchers from the University of Bristol poured over thousands of studies on the relationship between pregnant women and alcohol from the past 65 years. Out of those studies, a mere 24 fit their specific criteria: Research that looked specifically at pregnant women consuming low amounts of alcohol—one to, at most, four alcoholic beverages per week. (Much research has been done on the link between pregnancy and moderate-to-high alcohol consumption, but the scientific community hasn't reached a consensus on the relationship specifically with low alcohol consumption. As such, this is one of first major studies of its kind.)

"These were all representative studies of pregnant women or women trying to conceive who reported on their alcohol use before the baby was born," said Loubaba Mamluk, PhD, who led the study. They found an absence of clear evidence indicating that low alcohol consumption led to a detrimental impact on pregnancy or childbirth.

These findings line up with two high-profile studies from the past decade. In 2010, a paper published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that, when a mother kept her drinking to one or two beverages per week, her kids displayed no increased risk of behavioral of cognitive issues—a sign of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome—by 5 years old. Then, in 2013, another BMJ Open study showed that, by 10, children of lightly drinking moms were no less balanced than kids of moms who didn't drink—another sign of the negative repercussions of pregnant drinking.

In short, if you had a glass of wine before you knew you were pregnant—or if you've slipped up at any point during the pregnancy—there's not a reason to fret. And that's backed up with science. But still, at the end of the day, there's one thing everyone can agree on: If you're pregnant, don't binge drink. (And even if you're not pregnant, you should probably avoid binge-drinking, as well. If you're worried about it, here's how to Know How Your Boozing Affects Your Health.)

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Ari Notis
Ari is an editor specializing in news and lifestyle. Read more
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