Experts have published a report discussing the evidence and present guidelines on alcohol consumption in pregnancy. Mary Mather, a retired pediatrician, and Kate Wiles, a doctoral research fellow in obstetric medicine at Guys and St Thomas NHS Trust argue that drinking alcohol is not important for the health of a pregnant woman, and is in fact extremely harmful to the developing baby.

“The only ethical advice is to completely abstain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy,” they stated. The findings appear in The BMJ.

Alcohol During Pregnancy: What Alcohol Does And What Is Known

Mental retardation, fetal alcohol syndrome, low birth weight and development and behavioral abnormalities – these are some of the potential adverse effects of consuming alcohol during pregnancy. However, when and how this damage occurs is relatively unknown, and varies in each individual pregnancy.

“Pregnant women should realize that there is no verification of any ‘threshold level’ of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, supposedly below which exposure of the fetus to alcohol is safe,” the authors explained. “Current guidelines do not corroborate present evidence and international consensus – a contradictory and confusing amount of mixed messages is available.”

The Concept Of ‘Alcohol Units’

Inconsistent proposals have been given by the Department of Health, NICE and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG), claiming that a certain number of ‘alcohol units’ are safe for consumption during pregnancy.

Moreover, very few pregnant and healthcare professionals actually know what an ‘alcohol unit’ means, and hence consume minimal amounts of alcohol while they are pregnant. Little do they realize that this misinterpretation puts their unborn babies at risk. On the other hand, countries such as Denmark, Canada, Australia, Norway, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands advise against drinking alcohol completely.

This highlights the need of developing clear and consistent guidelines for pregnant women, acknowledging the lack of evidence that the concept of ‘alcohol units’ is safe. Until this is done, pregnant women in many countries will continue to follow misinformation.

Coming Up With Solutions

Patrick O-Brien, a Consultant and Honorary Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynecology at University College London Hospital stated that the solution is not to advise women to avoid alcohol; inconsistencies in the guidelines should be resolved and coherent evidence must be clearly provided.

“If women perceive that valued judgments have been made on their behalf, or we are enforcing certainty where it doesn’t exist, we will certainly lose their trust. They must be made aware of their misconceptions and must be encouraged to make informed decisions.”

Moreover, the guidelines must acknowledge that sufficient evidence cannot be provided about everything. There is no accurate evidence suggesting that drinking between a certain limit 12 months into the pregnancy harms the fetus; however, it isn’t 100 percent guaranteed that any lower limit is safe.