Not a Drop of Alcohol for Pregnant Women, Experts Warn

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Doctors have said there is no evidence of a ‘safe’ threshold for drinking alcohol during pregnancy, so are advising women not to touch even a drop when they are expecting.

Experts in paediatrics and pregnancy have written in the BMJ that women who are planning a family are being provided with too much conflicting advice, potentially putting their children at risk.

Retired paediatrician Mary Mather and Kate Wiles, doctoral research fellow in obstetric medicine at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust have said the only principled advice that should be offered is to completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.

If exposed to alcohol in the womb, babies can suffer from low birth rate, behavioural and developmental abnormalities, mental retardation and foetal alcohol syndrome.

According to the authors, women are facing a confusing and contradictory stream of mixed messages when it comes to approaching pregnancy.

The UK’s Department of Health does advise that women avoid alcohol completely. However it says that if they do choose to drink, they should consume no more than one or two alcoholic units (the equivalent of one or two small glasses of wine) a maximum of twice a week.

NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommends that women should avoid alcohol particularly in the first three months of their pregnancy, due to the increased risk of miscarriage.

The RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) also says that women should not drink in the first three months and that drinking too much can harm an unborn baby. However, it does say that after three months, drinking one to two units once or twice a week does not appear to cause harm.

The doctors writing in the BMJ article said that when and how foetal damage occurs is unknown and varies between each individual pregnancy. They added that pregnant women need to know there is no evidence of a threshold alcohol consumption level in pregnancy below which it can be certain that exposure is safe.

Other countries, including Spain, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, Mexico, Israel, Norway, France, Denmark, Canada and the US recommend no alcohol at all during pregnancy.

The number of women who have stopped drinking alcohol altogether during pregnancy is on the rise. The latest figures suggest that 48 percent of women who normally drank alcohol gave up when they got pregnant, compared with 33 percent in 2005.

The remainder cut down on alcohol, apart from 2 percent who reported drinking more or no change in the amount they would normally drink.

Dr Patrick O’Brien is a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology. He said that women are intelligent enough to consider a variety of views.

He wrote in the BMJ that everyone deals with uncertainty on a daily basis and pregnant women are just as capable of doing so as everyone else.

According to Dr O’Brien, the evidence was not clear cut and going too far in the provided advice could cause a loss of faith in doctors. He said if women feel doctors professing certainty where there isn’t any or making value judgements on their behalf, it will likely cause a loss of trust.