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Drinking During Early Pregnancy and Birth Woes

The research didn't examine long-term health threats; March of Dimes critical of the findings
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After comparing the mothers' drinking histories with the status of their babies at birth, the study authors concluded that drinking both pre-pregnancy and during the first 15 weeks of pregnancy did not seem to increase the risk that a baby would be born prematurely, low in birth weight or small for gestational age -- regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed.

Nor was drinking linked to a potentially life-threatening complication known as "preeclampsia," in which a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure.

The study authors, however, cautioned against any broad interpretation of the findings, noting that their focus was solely on drinking during early pregnancy, and on specific measures of a baby's health at the moment of birth. The study did not measure alcohol's potential impact on a baby's development for the long term.

For his part, Dr. Edward McCabe, chief medical officer of the March of Dimes, stressed that his organization continues to adhere to its long-standing position that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause permanent harm to the child, and no amount of maternal drinking is safe.

"The March of Dimes feels that if you're pregnant or even thinking about getting pregnant you should not drink alcohol," he said. "That means no wine, wine coolers, beer or liquor."

"And critically," McCabe added, "I should point out that after a long build-up where the authors [of the new study] are sort of talking up the myth regarding recommendations that pregnant women not drink, at the end of their article they say, and I quote: 'It remains unclear whether any safe level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy exists.' Which means that the final take-home message of this paper is actually do not drink while pregnant.

"So actually ... the authors agree with the March of Dimes' position," McCabe said. "They are not saying that it's safe to drink alcohol during pregnancy."

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