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London - Mothers-to-be who indulge in a light tipple actually go on to have better adjusted children than those who abstain, a study has claimed.
Advice on drinking in pregnancy has varied from a complete ban to moderate consumption - amid fears it could contribute to miscarriage and child developmental problems.
But the latest research looked at mothers in Denmark who drank ten bottles of white wine - or 90 units - over the course of the pregnancy.
Their offspring were both emotionally and behaviourally better adjusted than those of teetotal mothers.
The mothers who did drink were also likely to be from well-educated backgrounds with healthier lifestyles.
However, psychologist Janni Niclasen, who carried out the research, warned it was important to emphasise that the findings were not an invitation to pregnant women to drink alcohol. She said: ‘At first sight this makes no sense, since alcohol during pregnancy is not seen as beneficial to child behaviour.
‘But when you look at the lifestyle of the mothers, you find an explanation.
‘Mothers who drank 90 units or more of alcohol turn out to be the most well educated and healthiest lifestyle over all.
‘Further, it is a question of taking account of childhood related psychological factors like attachment between mother and child in this type of study. This is a problem because we know that attachment is a very significant predictor for child cognitive and mental health.
‘Therefore it should be taken into account in our statistical analysis.’
Miss Niclasen, of the University of Copenhagen, examined the results of a large population survey carried out by the Danish health and medicine authorities. She studied the alcohol consumption only of women who drank small quantities during pregnancy, so the results do not show the effect on children whose mothers drank heavily.
The population study involved 100 000 pregnant women interviewed on three separate occasions about their consumption – twice in pregnancy and when the children were aged six months. When the children were seven, 37 000 women were contacted again.
Since 2007, the Department of Health has advised that alcohol should be avoided altogether during pregnancy. However, women who do decide to drink are advised to have no more than ‘one or two units, once or twice a week’.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence advises women to avoid alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says women should abstain. But it also says that evidence shows that one or two units, once or twice a week, is acceptable after 12 weeks of pregnancy.