New evidence has emerged that pregnant women who indulge in one glass of wine a day in their first trimester may have better behaved children than those who abstain from alcohol or drink heavily.
In a study of more than 2300 mothers, Perth researchers found pregnant women who drank light to moderate amounts of alcohol had babies with fewer emotional and behavioural difficulties.
The team from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research set the "moderate" consumption limit at one alcoholic drink a day.
But study leader Dr Monique Robinson advised pregnant women to stick to national guidelines, which recommend expectant mothers abstain from alcohol, and to speak to their doctor.
She said that child behaviour was "just one of many outcomes that might be assessed with regards to alcohol consumption during pregnancy".
Binge and large alcohol intake should still be avoided as this does have potential for harm.
"While our study found light drinking during pregnancy was not associated with increased risk for the child, national guidelines recommend the safest choice is to avoid alcohol once the pregnancy is known."
The study, published in the obstetrics and gynecology journal BJOG, was based on 14 years of data.
The researchers recorded the weekly drinking habits of women during the early stages of pregnancy, then monitored the behavioural and emotional patterns of their children during their early teenage years.
Almost 60 per cent of expectant mothers had not drunk during pregnancy, but 3 per cent threw back between seven and 10 drinks and 2 per cent consumed 11 alcoholic drinks each week.
About 20 per cent admitted to an occasional tipple of up to one drink a week and 15 per cent had consumed two to six drinks a week.
Researchers checked on the 2370 children involved in the study every few years between the ages of two and 14 and concluded mothers who didn't drink during their first trimester had trouble getting their children to behave.
Children of light drinkers early in pregnancy had a "clinically meaningful" lower risk of becoming depressed or reacting aggressively than the children of non-drinkers. The results were determined through a standard checklist used by psychologists.
They have warned against heavy drinking during pregnancy. Researchers noted 13 per cent of children who were born to mothers who did drink heavily had aggression problems and 10 per cent had depression.
Dr Robinson said the research would help alleviate any guilt for women who had drunk alcohol before they found out they were pregnant.
"Women may be drinking alcohol in small amounts prior to recognition of the pregnancy and we feel these data highlight that it is unlikely that this has harmed their unborn child's mental health,'' she said.
"Women should not feel guilty or anxious about low-level drinking effects prior to recognition of the pregnancy. However, binge and large alcohol intake should still be avoided as this does have potential for harm.''
King Edward Memorial Hospital's Women and Newborn Health Service recommends pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers follow Australian guidelines that suggest there is no "safe" level of drinking.
Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service clinical midwifery consultant Sadie Geraghty said the amount of alcohol consumed, the frequency and timing of consumption are all factors in the way drinking can affect a foetus.
"How does one define moderation of alcohol consumption? One standard glass of wine is 100mls - how many people fill their glass and call that a standard drink?'' Ms Geraghty said.
"There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy."
- with Reuters
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