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Alcohol consumption in pregnancy

11 Aug 2015

Research by an MRC-funded PhD student at the University of Leeds on the link between light drinking by pregnant women and pre-term birth led to national media coverage and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) changing its guidance on alcohol consumption.

Evidence about the damaging effects of heavy drinking in pregnancy is well-established. However, the link between light alcohol consumption and adverse outcomes, such as pre-term labour and low-birth weight, is less clear. The current guidance issued by the Department of Health is that pregnant women and women trying to conceive should avoid alcohol altogether and never drink more than 1-2 units once or twice a week.

Camilla Nykjaer used data from the Caffeine and Reproductive Health (CARE) Study, a prospective cohort of 1,303 pregnant women aged 18-45 years.

The study used questionnaires to assess alcohol consumption before pregnancy and for the three trimesters separately. She found that the association with adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight and pre-term birth were strongest in pregnant women consuming more than two units of alcohol a week and in trimesters one and two. However, the study also showed that even women adhering to the Department of Health guidance in the first trimester still doubled their risk of giving birth to a premature or underweight baby.

Camilla gave interviews with various media outlets, resulting in national coverage including articles by the BBC, and The Times.

Following this media interest, Camilla was approached by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to review their guidance on alcohol consumption in pregnancy. The resulting guidance, recommending that women trying to conceive and pregnant women in the first trimester do not consume any alcohol at all, was published in February 2015.


  • Categories:
  • Health categories: Reproduction
  • Strategic objectives: Lifestyles affecting health, Capacity and skills
  • Locations: Other
  • Type: Success story