Drinking alcohol during pregnancy really DOES lead to poor brain function in babies, study confirms

  • UK health officials advise pregnant women not to drink throughout pregnancy
  • Study reinforces accepted view it leads to poor cognitive function in children 
  • Bristol University research shows it can also lead to a lower birth weight  

Drinking alcohol at any point in pregnancy leads to poorer brain function in babies, a new study has confirmed.  

Researchers at the University of Bristol compared 23 published studies on drinking during pregnancy and found evidence it can also lead to lower birth weight.

The findings backed up UK Chief Medical Officer guidelines not to drink during any trimester. 

Scientists compared children from the same families whose mothers cut down or increased their alcohol consumption between pregnancies. 

The research reviewed 23 published studies on drinking during pregnancy

The research reviewed 23 published studies on drinking during pregnancy

They also used randomised control trials instead of the traditional ‘observational’ approach where participants are already exposed to the risk factor and do not intervene to change who is or isn’t exposed.    

All the studies included in the review tried to compare like-with-like groups of people, who were only different in terms of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy.

The study fell short of being able to establish what level of alcohol leads to brain damage.  

Study lead Dr Luisa Zuccolo, from the University of Bristol, said: ‘The body of evidence for the harm that alcohol can do to children before they are born is growing, and our review is the first to look at the full range of studies on the issue.

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‘This is unlikely to be a fluke result, as we took into account a variety of approaches and results.

‘Our work confirms the current scientific consensus: that consuming alcohol during pregnancy can affect one’s child’s cognitive abilities later in life, including their education. It might also lead to lower birth weight.

‘Our study reinforces the UK Chief Medical Officers’ guideline: DRYMESTER is the only safe approach.

‘This message is more important than ever, given recent research which shows the alcohol industry promoting confusing information about the real health implications of drinking during pregnancy.’

The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Medical Research Council.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jenny Harries added: ‘If you are pregnant or you are planning to become pregnant, national guidelines recommend the safest approach is to not drink at all, to keep the risk to your baby to a minimum.

‘We have been clear with the alcohol industry that we expect these guidelines to be reflected on the labelling of all alcoholic products.

‘Public Health England, the NHS and local authorities continue to reinforce this advice through public health messaging.’

The paper, Evidence of detrimental effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on offspring birth weight and neurodevelopment from a systematic review of quasi experimental studies, is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.



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