More research is needed to determine the true effects of low to moderate alcohol consumption on the developing fetus, and the impact on pregnant women of different policies on alcohol consumption in pregnancy, child health researchers say.
Recommendations for safe levels of drinking during pregnancy vary across English-speaking countries and between states and organisations in Australia, according to new report written by Colleen O'Leary and her colleagues at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth.
"The policies and guidelines for alcohol and pregnancy ... range from an abstinence message to advice that the risk from low amounts of alcohol is minimal," Ms O'Leary said in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.
"However, Australia and the UK are the only two countries where a quantity of alcohol has been specified."
The UK recommends a maximum of four standard units per week, while Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends no more than seven standard drinks per week, with no more than two on one day. Both advise against binge drinking. The NHMRC is reviewing its guidelines this year.
Some Australian States have adopted the NHMRC guidelines. In other States and Territories, guidelines range from complete abstinence to non-specific advice that consumption of alcohol should be reduced.
"Lack of clarity in the published literature about the relationship between low to moderate alcohol consumption and fetal harm has allowed a range of interpretations and conclusions to be drawn from the data," Ms O'Leary said.
"Research is needed to elucidate the true association between low to moderate alcohol consumption and fetal harm, the impact of different policies on the rates of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and any untoward outcomes of an abstinence message, to inform and underpin future policy development in Australia."