Sometimes researchers—even very good researchers—don't ask the obvious questions. Sometimes, they just get too close to their objects of study and forget to step back and take in the wider view. Many years ago, a French scientist was researching the power of electrical impulse to influence behavior and emotions. He demonstrated it by planting electrodes in the brain of a bull, claiming that by passing a current through the aggression centres of its, brain he could eliminate aggression in the beast.
The animal was shown the proverbial red flag and proceeded to charge then—voilà! The scientist flipped the switch and the bull stopped dead in its tracks. So the experiment was a success? Well actually, no. He planted the electrodes in the motor centres, the bull was still extremely aggressive, maybe even more so but now it could not act on it because it was paralysed
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So what relevance does this story have to drinking and pregnancy? Before answering that question, let me just summarize a new study and its findings. The study has been running in the UK for over a decade now and it categorized mothers into groups according to their drinking during pregnancy: abstainers, light drinkers, drinkers, etc. They then followed up with the children over the years and measured their cognitive abilities, emotional development and behavior.
In this recent study, they focused on the contrast between the children of mothers who drank lightly during pregnancy and mothers who abstained from drinking. The findings were surprising: researchers did not find any deficits in the children of the light drinkers. Secondly, although the statistics are not significant, the children of light drinkers had fewer behavioral problems and even higher cognitive abilities.
Is this a new claim we are making for alcohol? Should we be suggesting that expectant mothers consume alcohol during pregnancy as it could enhance the child's development? That would appear to fly in the face of everything we have advised for families in the past. So how do we explain these findings and what conclusions should we take from them? There are two issues to address. First, is alcohol safe during pregnancy? And second, is it good for the unborn child?
What this research shows is that a little alcohol does not appear to be damaging to the unborn child. However, we need to offer a couple of caveats. The researchers have clearly categorized light drinking as having no more than two units of alcohol a week (1 unit = a small glass of wine, 25ml of spirits or a half pint of beer). Therefore, this study does not give license to consume larger amounts. Indeed, there is a large body of research that shows a relationship between the levels of consumption of the mother and damage to the fetus.
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The other caveat is that some people can have an adverse reaction to alcohol and there could be damage to the baby. These studies are based on the average outcomes which means that some fare better and some fare worse. Keep reading ...
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