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Moderate Drinking While Pregnant May Not Be Harmful

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy may not have any damaging developmental effects on children five years later, according to new research published Tuesday.

But, the authors stressed, pregnant women should still err on the side of caution and avoid alcohol altogether, since no safe level of alcohol consumption has been established.

In a series of five studies, Danish researchers statistically evaluated how different levels of drinking during pregnancy affected the 5-year-old children of 1,628 women.  They compared women who drank zero, one to four, five to eight, and more than nine drinks per week while they were pregnant and assessed their children's IQ, attention span and their capacity for what are known as executive functions, which include organization and planning.

Children whose mothers reported having one to four or five to eight drinks per week while pregnant did not perform any worse on tests measuring IQ and executive functions.  Binge drinking, which meant having five or more drinks in one sitting, also did not have any significant negative effect on children five years later.

Drinking more than nine drinks per week, however, was linked to 5-year-olds' lower attention span.

In the study, the researchers defined a drink as having 12 grams of pure alcohol.  In the U.S., a drink is considered to have 14 grams of pure alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite the findings, the authors wrote that "the most conservative advice for women is not to drink alcohol during pregnancy" since there may still be adverse effects their research didn't uncover.

And in the U.S., government health agencies advocate total abstinence for expectant mothers, said Dr. Kimberly Fortner, assistant professor of maternal and fetal medicine at Vanderbilt University.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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