Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been the subject of countless research and controversial debates. However, researchers Mary Mather and Kate Wiles are suggesting women should steer clear of booze completely during the whole of gestation.
The researchers said "Alcohol is not essential to the health or well being of a pregnant woman and is known to be harmful to her baby. The only ethical advice that can be given is complete abstinence from alcohol in pregnancy. Infants can suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, mental retardation, development and behavioral abnormalities, and low birth weight. But how and when fetal damage occurs is unknown and will vary according to each individual pregnancy."
The researchers further added, "Pregnant women must know there is no evidence of a threshold level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy below which there can be certainty that exposure is safe. Current guidance flies in the face of evidence and international consensus and that these present a contradictory, confusing barrage of mixed messages."
The Department of Health, NICE and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) make inconsistent recommendations on the number of alcohol units that are safe for a pregnant women. Furthermore, few pregnant women or healthcare professionals understand what a unit of alcohol means.
The researchers said, "Many pregnant women drink alcohol during pregnancy and put their babies at risk. Meanwhile, many countries including Canada, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands and Scotland advise against alcohol consumption completely. Guidelines need to be clear, consistent and acknowledge that no evidence shows that alcohol consumption below a certain level is safe. Until this is provided, pregnant women in England and Wales will remain unable to make an informed choice about their use of alcohol in pregnancy."
The study appears in The BMJ.