It’s one of those modern taboos: pregnant women must abstain from alcohol. Even a sip of wine in a restaurant can lead to menacing glances from passerby, as they imagine a fetus drunk on Chardonnay. According to a new study, however, the taboo has it backwards: women who drink lightly while pregnant are less likely to have children with behavioral and cognitive problems.
The research, led by a team at the University College of London, analyzed thousands of pregnancies drawn from a large British government survey. As expected, heavy drinking mothers put their offspring at serious risk for a wide variety of mental problems, including hyperactivity and conduct disorders. But avoiding alcohol altogether wasn’t ideal, either: the children who performed best on the battery of cognitive tests came from mothers who had 1-2 drinks per week (the light drinking cohort.) While the scientists aren’t ready to prescribe alcohol along with prenatal vitamins – the statistical benefit was rather modest, and it’s very hard to correct for the influence of socioeconomic status – they do argue that the occasional drink certainly isn’t harmful.