A recent study from Leeds University in the United Kingdom has shown that there are risks if a mother has just three drinks a week, even in the early stages of pregnancy. The researchers decided that the best way to ensure the baby develops normally and healthily is to abstain completely from alcohol. However, the same study has shown that middle-class women are more likely to ignore any advice surrounding alcohol while pregnant.
The Leeds University study has shown that drinking during the first three months is the most dangerous for the development of the baby. However, that does not mean that expectant mothers can ignore the guidelines later on.
Researchers also suggest that the current guidelines are actually incorrect. At the moment, women are advised that they can have two drinks per week without doing harm to the baby, although health professionals do recommend completely abstaining from alcohol during the pregnancy. The results from the Leeds University study suggest that even two drinks is too much, and any alcohol can lead to premature births and low birth weights.
The research has been published in the British Medical Journal and was undertaken with almost 1,300 pregnant women. Some of the women chose to drink up to the maximum allowance advised by health professionals, but showed that the risks were higher for women who drank during the first 12 weeks. This is when most of the neurological development happens, making the fetus more sensitive to the effects and therefore suffer from more pregnancy risks from just three drinks or even less in a week.
Questionnaires were filled out by the 1,300 women at four different periods of their baby’s development. The first was four weeks before the conception and then at the end of each trimester. It asked the women about their drinking habits at each stage. The researchers found that most women would drink more before the pregnancy and during the first trimester than at any time. This takes into account the fact that some women do not realize that they are pregnant during the first four to six weeks.
Almost 40 percent of the participants admitting to drinking 10 units or more in the weeks leading to conception, and 53 percent admitted to drinking more than the recommended amount by health officials in the first trimester. Most of the women guilty of not following the guidelines were middle-class. They had degrees and lived in affluent parts of the United Kingdom.
The study also tracked the birth dates, weights and sizes of the babies. It found that there is an association between drinking alcohol and premature or low birth weight babies. However, researchers recognize that this is no conclusive and there may have been other factors at play. Those who did abstain from alcohol still saw a small number of premature and low birth weight babies.
Based on the study, researchers recommend that women who are trying to conceive should abstain from alcohol completely. Just having three drinks per week can lead to pregnancy risks that can affect babies later in life.
By Alexandria Ingham