There’s a reason all your favorite alcoholic beverages feature birth defect warnings. Today, it’s practically common knowledge that pounding tequila shots while pregnant can lead to serious consequences—from fetal alcohol syndrome to lower IQs and growth problems. Surely a glass of wine now and then can’t be that bad, right?
According to new research conducted by geneticists at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Victoria, Australia, pregnant women who drink a few servings of alcohol a week won’t cause serious damage, but they might notice slight adaptations in their baby’s facial features. Of the 1,570 pregnant women the researchers tracked for a study published last year in BMC Public Health, 27 percent admitted to drinking small amounts of alcohol during their pregnancies. Recently, the children reached one year of age, allowing researchers to photograph their faces using several cameras to measure a variety of angles and differences.
After controlling for variables, such as gender and weight, they found drinking up to seven drinks a week caused babies to have shorter, upturned noses; however, the changes weren’t visible to the naked eye and required advanced imaging techniques to detect for comparison. Therefore, mild drinking while pregnant—or before a woman realizes she’s pregnant—shouldn’t cause expecting mothers to lose sleep at night.
Geneticist Jane Halliday, who was the lead author of the study, echoes this point, telling New Scientist, “The results are telling us that there is some effect, albeit fairly subtle,” adding, “At this stage, we have not identified any problems for people to worry about.” And while doctors still don’t know exactly why alcohol affects fetuses, it’s worth being on the safe side and abstaining from alcohol as much as possible while pregnant—even if that means sipping on O’Doul’s for nine months.