Researchers found a “surprisingly limited number of prospective studies” specifically addressing the question of whether consuming small amounts of alcohol has an impact on pregnancy and childhood outcomes. Findings from this systematic review and meta-analyses were published in BMJ Open. 

The researchers searched various databases (eg, Medline, EMBASE, Web of Science, Psychinfo) from inception to July 11, 2016 for prospective observational studies, negative control and quasi-experimental studies of pregnant women assessing the effects of light drinking in pregnancy (≤32g per week) vs. abstaining. A total of 24 cohort and two quasi-experimental studies were included for analysis. 

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Outcomes such as stillbirth, gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, birth weight, features of fetal alcohol syndrome, and others were evaluated. Apart from birth size and gestational age, the authors did not find sufficient data to meta-analyze or make definitive conclusions. The odds for SGA and preterm birth were more likely among pregnant women who consumed up to 32g per week vs. women who abstained, “but estimates for preterm birth were also compatible with no association” (summary odds ratio [OR] 1.08, 95% CI: 1.02–1.14 for 7 studies with adjusted estimates, OR 1.10, 95% CI: 0.95–1.28 for 9 studies with 1 unadjusted estimate). 

“Evidence of the effects of drinking ≤32g per week in pregnancy is sparse,” the authors concluded, however, given the limited findings presented in this study, they suggest recommending patients abstain from alcohol during pregnancy as a precaution. “In addition, there has been no evidence regarding possible benefits of light alcohol consumption versus absence.”

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