25/05/2007

Pregnant women advised to avoid alcohol

Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive are being advised to avoid alcohol completely, under new guidance released by the Department of Health.

The revised guidance now recommends that alcohol should be cut out completely by pregnant women, although if they do choose to drink, it is recommended that they should only have one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk.

The previous advice in England was that pregnant women or women trying to conceive should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should avoid getting drunk.

The National Organisation on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome estimates that, for the UK as a whole, there are more than 6,000 children born each year with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is an umbrella term for a range of physical, mental, behavioural problems, including learning disabilities.

The Department of Health said that the new guidance was being introduced in order to provide stronger, consistent advice for the whole of the UK. It stressed that the revised advice was not due to new scientific evidence and said that women who were already pregnant and had followed the earlier advice had not put themselves or their baby at risk.

It comes as a survey showed that 9% of pregnant women were still drinking more than the recommended level.

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. This advice could also be included on alcohol packaging or labels.

"The advice now reflects the fact that many women give up drinking alcohol completely during pregnancy. It is now straightforward and stresses that it is better to avoid drinking alcohol altogether."

Dr Shelia Shribman, the National Clinical Director for Children, Young People and Maternity Services, said: "Our last survey of pregnant women showed that nine per cent were still drinking above the recommended levels. It is vital that we alert pregnant women and women hoping to conceive about the potential dangers of excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

"Although there is still scientific uncertainty about the precise impact of excess alcohol on unborn babies we believe the time is right to introduce a strong consistent approach across the whole of the UK."

(KMcA/SP)

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