UK – Department of Health Issues New Alcohol Guidelines for Pregnant Women
As revealed in the new Alcohol Strategy, the Department of Health has issued new alcohol guidelines for pregnant women, advising that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should abstain from alcohol.
The new guidelines, aiming to provide stronger, consistent advice for the whole of the UK, replace previous advice that these women should drink no more than two units a day once or twice a week.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Fiona Adshead said: ‘We have strengthened our advice to women to help ensure that no one underestimates the risk to the developing foetus of drinking above the recommended safe levels. Our advice is simple: avoid alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive.'
Ministers believe the change in guidance on alcohol is needed because too many women underestimate the risks to their baby. However, the new guidelines have been met with some scepticism on the grounds that they are not backed by any new scientific evidence, and that they may only serve to put further pressure on pregnant women. Department of Health research found that 9% of pregnant women are drinking above the recommended levels, while the National Organisation on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome estimates that there are more than 6,000 children born each year with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, as a result of their mother's alcohol consumption.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggests that ‘consumption of alcohol offers no benefits in relation to the outcomes of pregnancy [and that ] under reporting of alcohol consumption is thought to be widespread, such that adverse effects in the offspring may not always be recognised'. It also states, however, that ‘there is considerable doubt as to whether infrequent and low levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy convey any long-term harm, in particular after the first trimester of pregnancy'. The British Medical Association also suggests that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should not consume alcohol, and recommended the formulation of a more coherent and clear message on the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
The National Childbirth Trust said there was not enough scientific evidence to back the move, as a spokesperson claimed: “It is easy to say don't drink to be on the safe side. But to be on the safe side of not crashing you should not get into a car. The question is, is the evidence strong enough to say don't drink at all? At the moment, I haven't seen that evidence. Pregnant women need more evidence and less advice”. A spokesperson for the Baby Charity Tommy claimed that alcohol “caused more damage to the developing foetus than any other substance, including marijuana, heroin and cocaine. So although one or two units a week is thought to be safe, Tommy believes that no alcohol equals no risk”.
Many other countries including France, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, also recommended abstinence during pregnancy. France adopted the advice last year, saying research linked moderate levels of drinking with permanent brain damage.
Alcohol Policy UK
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
Alcohol and Pregnancy Information (November 2006)
British Medical Association
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders - A Guide for Healthcare Professionals (June 2007)