A glass of wine when you’re pregnant – many women don’t see a problem. In recent years, studies have reassured women that light drinking isn’t harmful to the fetus. But a new warning from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stirred the debate again.

“No amount of alcohol intake should be considered safe,” says the report, which appears in the journal Pediatrics. “There is no safe trimester to drink alcohol. All forms of alcohol, such as beer, wine, and liquor, pose similar risk. Binge drinking poses dose-related risk to the developing fetus.”

The report further outlines the risks -- that fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASD), the neurocognitive and behavioral problems resulting from alcohol exposure, are lifelong.

Prenatal alcohol exposure is frequently the cause of brain, heart, bones and spine, kidneys, vision and hearing difficulties, says the AAP. It's associated with a higher incidence of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and specific learning disabilities -- with math and language, visual-spatial functioning, impulse control, information processing, memory skills, problem solving, abstract reasoning and auditory comprehension. 


In the AAP study, women who drank in the first-trimester had 12-times higher odds of FASDs. First- and second-trimester drinking increased risks by 61-fold. Pregnant women who drank during all trimesters had 65 times higher FASD risk.

And yet, several recent studies paint a very different picture – although there is evidence that binge drinking is indeed harmful.

 One or two drinks per week did not increase FASD risk, in a 2010 study of over 11,500 mothers in Great Britain, according to the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

A review of five Danish studies had similar results. Low and moderate drinking in early pregnancy has no adverse effects on children, states the 2012 review, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Low” was defined as 1 to 4 drinks per week, and “moderate” was 5 to 8 drinks in the same time period.

However, the Danish studies also found that high levels of alcohol per week – 9 or more drinks -- were linked with a lower attention span among five year olds.

According to Janni Niclasen, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Copenhagen who has studied alcohol and pregnancy, "With our current research methods, we will never be able to conclude from human studies whether there is a safe lower level below which drinking is not associated with any harm to the developing fetus," HealthDay reports.



  1. American Academy of Pediatrics: AAP Says No Amount of Alcohol Should be Considered Safe During Pregnancy
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  3. Journal of Epidemiol Community Health
  4. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  5. HealthDay: No Amount of Alcohol Safe During Pregnancy, Doctors Say