Health Care

Advice to cut all drinking during pregnancy based on 'generally weak' evidence

Advice to cut all drinking during pregnancy based on 'generally weak' evidence”

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, found an 8 per cent higher risk of smaller babies among women who drank four units a week - insufficient for a "robust conclusion".

Justine Roberts, founder and CEO of Mumsnet, welcomed the study: "Unlike the no-smoking message, which seems to be universally believed if not always adhered to, pregnant women have remained a little sceptical about the zero-alcohol advice, and judging from the Mumsnet forums tend to be pretty realistic about the probable impacts of the odd drink and see no point in dwelling on the amounts they drank before even knowing they were pregnant".

Although there is strong evidence that excessive drinking harms babies in the womb, the study from researchers at the University of Bristol found that few good studies had been done on light drinking, which they defined as no more than two small drinks, or four units per week.

Up until previous year, women were told they could drink up to one or two units, once or twice a week.

One unit is 8g of alcohol - equivalent to half a pint of beer, lager or cider at 3.5% strength, a single measure (25ml) of spirits, such as whisky, gin, rum or vodka, or half a standard (175ml) glass of wine at 11.5% strength.

The researchers looked at the effects on a wide range of health outcomes such as miscarriage, still birth, size at birth, and long term developmental delays, behavioural and cognitive deficits.

Earlier this year, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which offers assistance to pregnant women, urged officials not to "overstate the risks from consuming small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy".

David Spiegelhalter, professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said: "This valuable and humane study has shown that warnings about the dangers of drinking any alcohol at all during pregnancy are not justified by evidence".

Drinking large amounts of alcohol is clearly linked to foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and the baby having a low birth weight.

James Nicholls, research director at the charity Alcohol Research UK, said the findings "should caution us not to create a situation where mothers-to-be are made more anxious, or subject to unnecessary moral judgment, on the issue of very light alcohol consumption".

However, women who have had a drink while pregnant, perhaps unwittingly, "should be reassured that they are unlikely to have caused their baby considerable harm", the team wrote.

They highlighted that another reason to be cautious was that the association might not reflect a direct causal link.

But critics have warned this advice is unduly worrying to women, especially those who drink before they discover they are pregnant.

Dr Luisa Zuccolo, who co-led the study, said: "Formulating advice on the basis of the current evidence is challenging, because we are still building the full picture of what happens to the unborn baby when small amounts of alcohol reach the bloodstream or brain".

"However, this must be about women making a choice and what is important is that they make that choice based upon the best available evidence", she said.

They said Government recommendations that women stop drinking altogether in pregnancy was based on "generally weak" evidence.

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