Pregnant Women and Advice on Drinking Alcohol

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which issues health guidelines in the UK, concluded that it is safe for expectant mothers to consume a small drink of alcohol each day.

Two weeks later, Britain's Department of Health changed its advice from recommending no more than two small drinks per day to recommending that pregnant women not drink any alcoholic beverage.

Then the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists reported that light alcohol consumption during pregnancy might affect the long-term health of child. This was followed by a new British Medical Association Report that pregnant women should abstain from drinking alcohol.

The British Medical Journal has failed to clarify the issue. In it, an employee of the British Medical Association warns of "possible risks" to the foetus (or fetus). She concluded that because of the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the question, women should simply be told to avoid alcohol entirely.

In the same issue of the journal, a leading medical consultant insisted that "there is no evidence that alcohol in moderation causes harm to unborn babies."

What's a pregnant woman to do?

Several important points are worth noting:

  1. Because it's impossible to "prove a negative," opponents of alcohol can always and forever say that "no safe limit on consumption has been proven"
  2. There appears to be no evidence that drinking in moderation (no more than one drink of beer, wine or distilled spirits) by pregnant women has ever caused Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or otherwise harmed a single baby. The burden of proof lies on those who contend that such drinking is harmful and they have not been able to do so.
  3. Women who choose to drink in moderation while pregnant can do so with knowledge that their decision is consistent with scientific evidence.
  4. There is always the possibility that some as yet unidentified harm to a baby might result from light or moderate drinking during pregnancy.
  5. Given the above possibility, even if remote, the very safest choice for an expectant mother's fetus would be to abstain.

Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should discuss the matter with their own physician or health care provider.

 

Sources:

  • Yee, Linda. New Study Says Some Alcohol OK for Pregnant Women. HealthWatch website, November 15, 2007;
  • Cockcroft, Lucy. Pregnant women told to keep off alcohol. Telegraph Media, October 26, 2007;
  • Rose, David. Pregnant women told glass of wine a day is fine - and too dangerous. The Times (UK), October 11, 2007;
  • Pregnancy and Alcohol - How Much Is Safe? Medical News Today website, October 27, 2007;
  • Nathanson, Vivienne. Is it all right for women to drink small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy? No. British Medical Journal, 2007, 335, 857;
  • O'Brien, Pat. Is it all right for women to drink small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy? Yes. British Medical Journal, 2007, 335, 856.

This site does not provide health or medical opinion or advice and none should be inferred.

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