There is no risk-free level of alcohol use during pregnancy

By writing that studies are “ambiguous” in “Five myths about pregnancy” [Outlook, May 14], Amy Tuteur framed the issue of a safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy as an ongoing debate between opposing sides, each with scientific validity. In fact, the science is settled: There is no amount of risk-free alcohol use during pregnancy. This is the position of every scientific and public-health institute and medical and behavioral health association in the United States, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A meta-analysis of 34 published cohort studies found an association between light-to-moderate levels of prenatal alcohol exposure — less than daily drinking — and developmental problems. Though other studies have not found deficits on a few specific behavioral measures, none has found any level of prenatal alcohol consumption that is non-toxic to human development.

While, in general, the lower the alcohol exposure, the lower the risk, critical genetic factors that make one pregnancy more vulnerable than another are unknown. Why tempt harm when all risk can be avoided? The best advice is a respectful but clear message encouraging mothers-to-be — with the support of their partners, family and friends — to set aside alcohol during pregnancy.