Department of Health and Social Care
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Updated alcohol advice for pregnant women

Updated alcohol advice for pregnant women

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH News Release (2007/0131) issued by The Government News Network on 25 May 2007

New health guidance published today is advising pregnant women or those trying to conceive to avoid alcohol.

The revised Department of Health advice says:

- Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol.
- If they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk.

This new guidance has been introduced to provide stronger, consistent advice for the whole of the UK.

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

The National Organisation on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome estimates for the UK as a whole that there are more than 6,000 children born each year with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Excessive alcohol can cause damage to the unborn baby at all stages in pregnancy and of course many women don't confirm they are pregnant until a number of weeks into the pregnancy. Therefore, for women who are planning to conceive it makes sense to avoid alcohol or limit their consumption to no more than 1-2 units once or twice a week.

Dr Sheila Shribman, the National Clinical Director for Children, Young People and Maternity Services said:

"Alcohol and pregnancy advice is now consistent across the UK.

"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. This revised advice has been agreed by the four Chief Medical Officers across the UK."

1. The previous advice in England was: 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.

2. The revised advice is not a result of new scientific evidence, but is consistent with the current evidence. We have revised the advice to make it easier to understand and to provide consistent advice across the UK.

3. Last year the Department of Health commissioned the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit to undertake a review of existing national and international evidence on the effects of alcohol on the developing embryo, foetus and child. The principal findings were that there is no consistent evidence that low to moderate consumption of alcohol during pregnancy has any adverse effects although there is some evidence that binge drinking can affect neurodevelopment of the foetus.

4. While scientific basis for our advice has not changed, the evidence base is not extensive and we believe it is possible the previous advice could be misinterpreted by some that it is safe to drink 'a little' when pregnant, where 'a little' can differ from person to person. Most women do actually stop drinking or drink very little in pregnancy, so a slightly stronger message is aimed at those who do not reduce their consumption to appropriate levels.

5. Women who are already pregnant and who have followed the earlier advice will not have put themselves or their baby at risk.

For public enquiries contact 0207 210 4850.

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