Scientists found that pregnant women who drank three to seven glasses of alcohol per week did not affect their children’s ability to balance, a marker of healthy brain development.
The findings, published in the journal BMJ Open, even suggested that children had better balance if their mothers drank moderate amounts of alcohol rather than staying teetotal during pregnancy.
However, the researchers said moderate drinkers tended to be wealthier and better educated than abstainers or binge drinkers. They concluded that social advantage, not the direct effect of alcohol consumption, was behind the positive link.
Overall, however, the researchers found ‘no strong evidence’ that alcohol use by mothers in pregnancy affected their children's balance.
Balance is seen as an important marker of normal fetal brain development. Poor balance can lower confidence and cause anxiety, and evidence to date of a link between maternal alcohol consumption and balance problems in offspring has been mixed.
To investigate further, University of Bristol researchers tested the balance of 6,915 children aged 10 years who took part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.
The 20-minute assessment looked at dynamic and static balance. Mothers were asked how much alcohol they drank when they were three months pregnant.
Most mothers (70%) did not drink during pregnancy and 25% drank up to seven glasses per week.
About one in 20 (4.5%) had seven or more drinks per week. One in seven of these women were classed as binge drinkers, having four or more glasses in one sitting.
The researchers found that after accounting for age, smoking and other factors, parents who drank moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy did not harm their child’s balance at age 10.
Researchers also analysed blood samples to test for a possible genetic link between mothers’ predisposition to drink alcohol and their child’s balance, but found no association.