On a warm evening at the neighborhood barbecue, most pregnant women opt for ice water or lemonade over chilled wine or a cold beer. They’re simply following years of well-established advice that any amount of drinking during pregnancy carries risks and heavy drinking, in particular, leads to intellectual problems later in the child’s life.
A new study, however, of approximately 1,600 Danish women and their children suggests that light drinking might be okay. Researchers looked at the influence of low to moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy on children’s intelligence, and found no effect on average IQ scores of preschoolers. According to the study authors, light drinking is fairly common among pregnant women in Denmark.
We asked URMC high-risk pregnancy experts Dr. Eva Pressman and Dr. Christopher Glantz, to shed some light on the drinking issue, which was recently addressed in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. And since it’s no fun being pregnant during an extra-hot summer, we also wondered about hydration and whether it’s okay to sip those refreshing iced coffee drinks.
Scripts: The Danish study looks at the effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy. How many drinks are included in these two categories?
Glantz: Low alcohol consumption is one to four drinks per week, and moderate consumption is five to eight drinks per week. This study compared women who didn’t drink at all to women who drank up to eight drinks a week, and found no significant differences in children’s IQ measurements at 5 years old. There was no demonstrable effect on IQ until nine drinks per week.
This study was large and thorough and accounted for many factors that could have influenced outcomes, like whether mom also smoked during pregnancy, and mom’s age and body mass index or BMI. The study’s accuracy is limited, however, by how honest the pregnant women were when they estimated their alcohol intake, given that there’s a tendency to under-report intake, especially during pregnancy.
Scripts: So what message should women take away? Can they safely enjoy a weekly cocktail in pregnancy?
Pressman: The study authors conclude — and we agree — that the most conservative advice for women is to avoid alcohol during pregnancy. Overall, however, I think this study is important and reassuring to patients who may consume low or moderate amounts of alcohol before knowing they’re pregnant.
Glantz: Instead of concluding that social drinking is okay during pregnancy, the best perspective from the study is that pregnant women don’t need to overly fret that an occasional drink will cause lasting damage to the fetus.
Scripts: Aside from refraining from drinking, what other advice do you give women to ensure they have a safe, healthy pregnancy and that their baby will have the best possible start to his or her life?
Glantz: Women should eat a healthy, balanced diet and take vitamins and iron if they are prescribed, but not at the expense of eating appropriately. For example, don’t force the vitamins or iron pills if they’re making you vomit. Women should also exercise moderately, and not smoke or take illicit drugs. Check with your obstetrician about whether to continue medications prescribed before pregnancy (preferably, do this before you get pregnant). Try to get eight hours of sleep each night, come to your prenatal appointments, and undergo testing when it’s advised.
Pressman: I would add that certain vaccines (influenza and tetanus-diptheria-pertussis) are recommended during pregnancy to protect the baby before they can receive their own vaccines.
Scripts: What about caffeine during pregnancy? Can women safely drink coffee or soda?
Pressman: One or two servings of caffeine (8 oz. coffee or 12 oz. soda) a day is fine. Some of the fancier coffee-house drinks can be the equivalent of four cups of coffee, though. So ask how much caffeine is in a specialty drink before ordering.
Scripts: Finally, it has been a warm summer across the country. Should pregnant women be wary of the extreme heat and take precautions?
Glantz: Yes, it’s best not to become overheated during pregnancy. Not only can prolonged higher body temperatures cause problems in fetal development, but it’s essential that pregnant women be adequately hydrated to support circulation and to avoid fainting. Avoid prolonged direct exposure to sun and have access to air conditioning and cold water.
For more information about maternity care at URMC, call 585-275-7480 or visit http://www.stronghealth.com/services/womenshealth/maternity/index.cfm.