Pregnant women should not drink any alcohol, BMA warn

The Telegraph [U.K.]
Tuesday 23 June 2015

British Medical Association call for stricter Government advice and “more explicit” warnings of the risks of alcohol to developing babies
By Laura Donnelly, Health Editor
21 Jun 2015

(Ed. Note: British medical authorities continue to send mixed messages and fail to acknowledge that avoidance of alcohol should start when planning a pregnancy – i.e. when sexually active and not using contraception.)

Women should not drink any alcohol during pregnancy, the British Medical Association will say at its annual conference this week.

Professor Sir Al Aynsley Green, president of the BMA, called for stricter Government advice and “more explicit” warnings of the risks to the baby on bottles and cans.

But pregnancy advice groups said pregnant women were already being “scared witless” about alcohol and did not need to be worried further.

Prof Aynsley Green, the former children’s commissioner for England, said current government guidelines to women on drinking alcohol in pregnancy were “confusing”, “contradictory” and “inconsistent”.

He said they should be replaced with one recommendation – no alcohol during pregnancy – which was simpler and safer.

“It has to be concluded that there is no ‘safe’ limit for alcohol consumption during pregnancy,” he said.

The Department of Health currently warns that pregnant women should avoid alcohol. However the advice goes in to say that if they do drink, they should limit their intake to one or two units once or twice a week to minimise the risk to their baby.

In February the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists issued new advice saying those trying to conceive and those in the first three months of pregnancy should not drink any alcohol at all.

After this time women are advised to not drink more than one to two units, more than once or twice a week.

The college’s previous guidance stated that mothers-to-be should not drink more than two units once or twice per week.

Aynsley Green, wants warnings on labels to state clearly that “alcohol can damage the health of your unborn child”. At the moment many bottles and cans carry a symbol showing the silhouette of a pregnant woman with a line through it.

Aynsley Green said plainer advice should be considered.

“On some bottles there is a very small icon with a lady with a bump. I think it should be rather more explicit than that,” he told The Sunday Times.

Professor Sheila Hollins, BMA board of science chairman, said: “We know that alcohol exposure during pregnancy can harm the unborn child. This can range from subtle damage that affects the child’s intelligence, behaviour and relationships to severe physical and learning disabilities that will have a significant impact throughout the life of the baby and of those around it.”

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol is the most common cause of all learning disabilities.

Up to 7,000 babies a year in Britain are born damaged because their mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy, doctors believe. Paediatricians and psychiatrists estimate that up to 1 per cent of babies suffer damage such as learning disabilities as a result of being exposed to alcohol in the womb.

However, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said the risks to babies were often exaggerated.

Clare Murphy, director of external affairs, said: “If the guidance needs amending in any way, it is to reassure women who have had an episode of binge drinking before they found out that they were pregnant that they are extremely unlikely to have caused their baby harm . . . These women are being scared witless by current alcohol messaging.”