Drinking during pregnancy causes more harm to the unborn child than tobacco smoke or cannabis, according to senior doctors.
They want Government guidelines to be changed to tell women to avoid alcohol altogether rather than once or twice a week.
Paediatricians – who specialise in the care of children – say as many as 1 per cent of babies born in England suffer behavioural or developmental problems due to alcohol exposure. There are 730,000 births in this country a year meaning as many as 7,000 could be affected. One consultant said that if women must have one bad habit while pregnant, it would be safer to smoke tobacco or cannabis than drink alcohol.
Dr Neil Aiton, a paediatrician at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘If it is a choice between a drink, a smoke or a spliff then ‘don’t drink’, would be my recommendation.
‘We have firm evidence that drinking alcohol regularly is damaging. ‘Cigarettes cause babies to be born a bit on the smaller side. ‘There is other evidence but it is minor compared to the long-term neurological and psychological damage that alcohol causes to the nervous system.’
Doctors are calling for government advice to be changed to state that women should not drink alcohol at all either while pregnant or trying to conceive. The current guidelines state that women should avoid it – but if they do choose to drink to limit it to one or two units a week.
But there are concerns this is misinterpreted by women who assume they can safely have one or two glasses of wine once or twice a week. A large 250ml glass of wine contains about three units of alcohol and doctors say that women are unwittingly putting their foetuses at risk.
Baroness Sheila Hollins, head of the British Medical Association Board of Science, said: ‘That is quite difficult advice to follow. People don’t know what a unit is.
‘The BMA’s advice would be that the elimination of drinking during pregnancy is safest because of the uncertainties of drinking at low to moderate levels.’ The chief medical officer for England Professor Dame Sallie Davies is currently reviewing the guidelines and may change them later this year.
Dr Raja Mukherjee runs for a clinic children and adults with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), a range of symptoms caused by alcohol damage in the womb, which is part of the NHS She says that although many children are diagnosed as having foetal alcohol syndrome – which has clear physical characteristics – foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are rarely picked up.
Her clinic estimates that between 1 per and 3 per of the population is affected by FASDs but many grow up unaware of the cause of their condition.
Article: 26th January 2013 www.dailymail.co.uk