Pregnant women can have a glass or two of alcoholic beverages daily without harming their child, says a new Danish study.
Popular belief has it that excessive alcohol use during pregnancy causes a range of health problems from behavioural disorders and impaired IQ to facial disfigurement in unborn babies.
Guidelines recommend that women who prefer to drink should consume no more than a medium-sized glass (175 ml) of wine, two units, twice a week. But Danish researchers have now found that drinking up to three times that amount appears to have no negative effect on children.
They decided to examine the issue because few studies have evaluated health effects on children of light or moderate drinking during pregnancy, the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reports.
Danish researchers followed 1,628 women and their offspring from pregnancy to the time the children were five years.
The mothers' were asked to assess their own drinking during pregnancy in interviews conducted at antenatal appointment, usually at about 17 weeks, according to the Telegraph. They were then categorised as abstainers during pregnancy; light drinkers (one to four drinks a week); moderate drinkers (five to eight); or heavy drinkers (nine or more).
One drink contained 1.5 British units of alcohol roughly that in a small (125 ml) glass of medium-strength white wine.
They found that having up to eight small drinks a week had no effect on the five-year-olds' IQ, attention span, self-control and ability to organise themselves. Only children of women who consumed nine or more such drinks a week were affected, demonstrating lower attention spans.
Ulrik Schioler Kesmodel, professor at the Aarhus University, Denmark, said: "We are not encouraging women to drink but we hope to reassure those who have been drinking in the early stages of pregnancy - maybe before they knew they were having a baby - that they don't need to worry about it."
He added that he and fellow researchers were "really surprised" not to find any evidence of harmful effects in children among pregnant women who had been involved in binge drinking.