(CN) – A new study conducted by researchers in Britain says that while women should abstain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy as a precautionary measure, there is a lack of data on so-called “light” drinking to support a finding of considerable harm.
An analysis of 26 relevant studies from a pool of almost 5,000 articles found a lack of data about women who drink alcohol occasionally as opposed to those expectant mothers who drinking moderately or excessively. That led the researchers commissioned by the U.K. chief medical officer to surmise there is limited evidence on how much alcohol, if any, is safe to drink during pregnancy.
“Despite the distinction between light drinking and abstinence being the point of most tension and confusion for health professionals and pregnant women, and contributing to inconsistent guidance and advice now and in the past, our extensive review shows that this specific question is not being researched thoroughly enough, if at all,” the researchers write in the study, which was published Monday in the online journal BMJ Open.
The researchers say finding how whether – or how much – alcohol can be safely consumed during pregnancy is important since 80 percent of pregnant women in the Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia consume some alcohol during pregnancy.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says no amount of drinking during pregnancy is safe, and that alcohol consumption during the pregnancy is the leading cause of birth defects.
“Even moderate alcohol use during pregnancy can cause lifelong problems with a child’s learning and behavior. Any amount is risky for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. All types of alcohol are harmful, including beer and wine,” the group says on its website.
The British researchers agree that women should not drink while pregnant as a precaution, but said women who had a drink while pregnant are unlikely to cause their baby any lasting harm.
They found that drinking up to four units a week during pregnancy is tied to an 8 percent higher risk of having a small baby when compared to abstaining altogether. Researchers found some evidence of a heightened risk of premature birth though they cautioned that the findings on that issue are not clear cut.
“As there was some evidence that even light prenatal alcohol consumption is associated with being SGA [underweight] and preterm delivery, guidance could advise abstention as a precautionary principle,” the researchers wrote.
In the U.K., health officials recommend that men and women drink no more than 14 units a week. That’s the same as six pints of beer or six glasses of wine. They recommend spreading the units throughout the week to reduce the health risks associated with binge drinking.
Dr. Luisa Zuccolo and Dr. Loubaba Mamluk of the University of Bristol wrote the study.