The children of women who drank small amounts of alcohol during their pregnancy fare better than children whose mothers drank no alcohol at all.
This is the surprising result of a new analysis of pregnant women’s drinking habits by University of Copenhagen PhD student Janni Niclasen.
Nicalsen said her theses was spurred by noticing that the same large-scale surveys were interpreted very differently, with some recommending the consumption of small amounts of alcohol, and others saying that alcohol should be avoided completely.
Same surveys, different findings
“I could see that the seven-year-old boys of women who drank small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy performed significantly better, both behaviourally and emotionally, than the children of mothers who had not drank anything at all,” Niclasen stated in a press release.
Niclasen argues that there are many social and economic factors that also impact the development of children that are not taken into account by the surveys.
“It is problematic because we already know that the connection between mother and child has an enormous impact on the mental and cognitive development of children later in life,” Niclasen added.
Mother's lifestyle impacts child's development
Niclasen used data from a study of 100,000 Danish women who were asked about their alcohol consumption during pregnancy as well as their education and lifestyle.
Around 37,000 women were contacted again when their children were seven years old to test the children’s behavioural and emotional skills.
“[My findings] don’t seem to make sense because drinking alcohol during pregnancy is not thought to have a positive impact on children’s behaviour. But when you introduce other lifestyle factors, the explanation becomes evident – mothers who drank small amounts of alcohol were also those who had the longest educations and the healthiest lives,” Niclasen said.
“It’s already difficult to control for lifestyle factors so when there is also data missing that takes account of psychological variables, such as connection to the mother and intelligence, it’s important to be wary when interpreting the results,” she said.
Niclasen added that her findings were not an invitation for pregnant women to go out and drink alcohol, and that she had only focussed on women who drank small amounts of alcohol when pregnant.