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Moderate maternal alcohol intake 'has no effect on mental development'

‘No strong evidence’ has been found to indicate that moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy has an adverse effect on the mental development of subsequent offspring, say UK researchers.

The study

Researchers looked at 6,915 children who had data on maternal alcohol consumption before pregnancy, when 18 weeks pregnant and 47 months after birth. The children had a balance assessment at the age of 10 based on three measures: dynamic balance (beam-walking); static balance with eyes open and static balance with eyes closed (heal-to-toe balance on a beam and standing on one leg, with eyes open or closed).

The results

Children whose mothers recorded moderate maternal alcohol exposure (three to seven glasses per week at 18 weeks) had better static balance with their eyes open and closed, compared with those not exposed to alcohol, with adjusted odds ratios of 1.23 and 1.25, respectively. A ‘less consistent’ positive association between maternal binge drinking (ten or more days drinking four units or more at 18 weeks) and balance was observed, compared with offspring in the cohort with zero maternal alcohol exposure.

What this means for GPs

The researchers note that they found ‘no strong evidence’ for adverse effects from typical general population levels of maternal alcohol use during pregnancy on balance outcomes. But they warned the ‘beneficial’ effects observed in some analyses were ‘most likely a reflection of residual confounding by factors related to social position’.

BMJ Open, 2013

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