Drinking during pregnancy 'can lead to premature birth'

Women who binge drink during the early stages of pregnancy are at an increased risk of giving birth prematurely, according to new research.

Research by the University of Western Australia found that maternal and newborn health could be affected if women drink heavily, even if they stop once they realise they are pregnant.

The research found women who drank over one or two drinks a day during the first three months of pregnancy, then stopped later, are more likely to deliver prematurely than those who do not drink at all during pregnancy.

Colleen O'Leary, from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, said the risks of a "preterm birth", which could affect the newborn's health, are increased "even if they stop drinking before the second trimester".

She added: "Women should be advised that during pregnancy, drinking alcohol above low levels increases the risk to the baby and that the safest choice is not to drink alcohol during pregnancy."

Recent research in the US by the National Centre for Health Statistics found that 543,000 babies were born prematurely in the country in 2006, which was a 36 per cent increase on figures from the early 1980s.