Studies on the fetal effects of alcohol use during pregnancy seem to contradict one another, with the results of some studies saying that pregnant women should never drink and others suggesting a few drinks during pregnancy are not so bad. One researcher was curious about the disparity in results and launched an investigation into why similar studies can have vastly different results.

Psychologist Janni Niclasen followed up on a large population study known as the Danish National Birth Cohort, which gathered information about pregnancy and alcohol. Her study had stunning results – she found that the offspring of women who drank small amounts of alcohol had better emotional and behavioral outcomes at the age of seven than did kids whose mothers abstained from alcohol.

Niclasen points out that, while alcohol use during pregnancy is generally associated with behavior problems, women who drink in moderation are better educated and have healthier lifestyles. Furthermore, Niclasen says, many of the large population studies do not account for psychological factors, like attachment between mother and child, when calculating statistics. These psychological factors, especially attachment, are important predictors of a child’s cognitive and mental health. Therefore, Niclasen urges architects of large population studies to consider these factors when performing statistical analysis.

The Danish National Birth Cohort, which Niclasen used in her study, was conducted between 1996 and 2002. In that cohort, researchers interviewed more than 100,000 pregnant Danish women about their alcohol use on three different occasions: twice during pregnancy, then again when the child was six months old. Researchers also asked about lifestyle and educational background.

Of the original participants, 37,000 answered all three rounds of questions; researchers contacted these women again when the children were seven years old. During this final interview, researchers measured the scores of children on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, designed to measure a child’s emotions, behaviors, and relationships. Niclasen took her results from this final interview.

Niclasen’s study looks at only women who drank small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy and does not examine the effects on a child whose mother drank excessively during pregnancy.

Source: University of Copenhagen. "Study on pregnancy and alcohol fails to take psychological factors into account." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 6 Jan. 2014. Web.19 Jan. 2014.