In Summary
  • A trawl for research on the topic found "a surprisingly limited number" of studies into low alcohol consumption during pregnancy, a team wrote in the journal BMJ Open.
  • And given the "paucity of evidence", the advice for now must remain "better safe than sorry," the researchers concluded.

How much alcohol is safe for a pregnant woman to drink?

For a question that affects so many people, surprisingly little research has been done, health experts who reviewed the scant evidence said Tuesday.

While there is widespread awareness of foetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause brain damage in unborn babies whose mothers drink, nobody knows how much it takes, or whether there is a safe limit for pregnant women to enjoy an occasional tipple.

A trawl for research on the topic found "a surprisingly limited number" of studies into low alcohol consumption during pregnancy, a team wrote in the journal BMJ Open.

And given the "paucity of evidence", the advice for now must remain "better safe than sorry," the researchers concluded.

The team searched far and wide for data on pregnant women who had imbibed four units per week — a total of 32 grammes (1.1 ounces) or 40 millilitres of pure alcohol — considered in Britain as "light" consumption.

A unit in Britain is about half a pint of beer, half a glass of wine, or half a shot of the hard stuff.

The recommended British limit for adults is 14 units, but for pregnant women, the advice is complete abstinence.

Guidelines differ between countries, but the issue is controversial.

According to the authors, up to 80 percent of mothers-to-be in Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia drink some alcohol while pregnant.

A study earlier this year in 11 European countries said that about 16 percent of expectant mothers overall reported drinking some alcohol, ranging from 29 percent in Britain, 27 percent in Russia and 21 percent in Switzerland, to just over four percent in Norway.

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