An article in yesterday’s issue of USAToday covers a newly-released study from England that indicates that a pregnant woman might be able to drink a couple of drinks a week without harming her baby.

To give USAToday credit, they interviewed experts who pointed out the weakness in the study. However, since other reporters may not be as careful, or the information may be misinterpreted, I’d like to comment on two important flaws.

Self-Reporting

The Data depended on women’s self-reporting the amount that they drank during pregnancy. Underreporting the amount that one has drunk is almost the rule in surveys, especially in surveys where the person may feel that they could be judged on their answer. Certainly that applies in this case.

Reference to Prior Studies

The previous reference was a study of the same population, done by the same people, two years after the mothers gave birth. In effect, this study (at five years) is a continuation of the previous one, and is subject to any flaws that may have existed, including the one mentioned above. To be a viable reference, the comparative study should have been independent.

This does not mean that the study was in error, but only that the possibility of error is significant. What it does mean is that the results should be ignored by the public — especially pregnant ladies and people who influence them. It has not been shown that any drinking while pregnant is safe, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is any parent’s nightmare.

Better safe than sorry.  If you are pregnant, or plan to become pregnant, consider stopping all drinking for the period of the pregnancy and during any breastfeeding.  If you are not able to stop, consider seeking help.

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