Don’t Drink when Pregnant, UK Says

LONDON ~ The British government has issued new guidance to pregnant women and those trying to conceive, advising that they steer clear of alcohol altogether.

The guidance, replacing existing advice that they should drink no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week, brings Britain into line with countries including France, the United States, Canada and Australia.

But some doctors’ groups have suggested that the change may be unnecessary, arguing that low levels of alcohol during pregnancy are not harmful.

The Department of Health said it issued new advice to ensure that pregnant women get a consistent message about the risks of alcohol after a government survey found that nine percent were drinking above recommended levels.

“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,” said Doctor Sheila Shribman, national clinical director for maternity services.

Deputy chief medical officer Doctor Fiona Adshead added that the advice could now be printed on labels on bottles of alcohol, as is the case in, for example, France.

Patrick O’Brien, spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said there was “no doubt” that drinking high levels of alcohol during pregnancy was harmful.

But he added: “There’s no evidence that low-level drinking – no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week – is harmful to the baby in any way.

“The advice that we are giving at the moment – which is based on the evidence – is that low levels of alcohol intake are perfectly safe.”

More than 6,000 children are born in Britain each year with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, linked to consumption of alcohol during pregnancy and symptoms of which can include growth defects and damage to the nervous system, according to the National Organisation on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.

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