When the issue of drinking during pregnancy was last on tap, a series of headline-making studies suggested that light to moderate drinking by moms-to-be poses no harm to developing babies. Even occasional binge drinking got a pass from the CDC-funded research.
But in this round? Not so much. A new, genetics-based study says that drinking even a few alcoholic beverages per week during pregnancy could be enough to impact brain development and lower a baby's IQ.
Researchers at the University of Oxford followed more than 4,000 mothers who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol—one to six drinks per week—during pregnancy. As an added layer, researchers also analyzed the DNA of their children to look for differences in the parts of the genetic code responsible for breaking down alcohol—an important consideration that can drastically change the effect of a drink on the body, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Researchers identified four key differences in alcohol-metabolizing genes that had a harmful effect on brain development and intelligence. Sure enough, when children of moms who drank moderately took IQ tests at 8 years old, their scores averaged almost two points lower for each genetic modification present.
What does this mean? "This is a complex study but the message is simple: even moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can have an effect on future child intelligence," says lead researcher Dr. Ron Gray from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, in a study press release. "So women have good reason to choose to avoid alcohol when pregnant."
But what about the studies from six months earlier that had some women toasting researchers? This study, because it took the extra step of analyzing DNA, may trump previous research, which only looked at moms' reported drinking. It could be that other factors, such as a mother's education, income, and other lifestyle choices, like smoking habits, came into play in these studies without researchers realizing it.
As we pointed out when the 411 on drinking was more accepting, the CDC, March of Dimes, and other major health organizations have not budged on their alcohol policy that "the only safe drink during pregnancy is no drink at all."
And now this advice may be truer than ever. As senior scientist at the CDC, Dr. Jacquelyn Bertrand, says (via CBSNews.com), "Drinking during pregnancy is just not worth the risk."