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Drinking Safely During Pregnancy?

22/01/2010

Doing some background reading, I come across a series of conundrums relating to alcohol drinking by pregnant women.
Increasingly, we are being told that drinking any alcohol during pregnancy is bad for you.
As the ‘moral message’ has failed to work in reducing alcohol consumption, health policy makers – or more puritanical elements among them – are trying to make sure that they try to hit families with the health stick.
But the jury is out on this. Around the world, the evidence based health advice seems to be that two drinks every night is too much, but that one or two twice or three times a week is fine. Which is, of course, pretty much the same advice that we are given about alcohol consumption generally: pregnant or not.
One of the reasons for this is that it is very difficult to prove a negative. We have no evidence that the health benefits of minimal alcohol consumption are outweighed by the detriment to the foetus or the mother.
Of course the alcohol studies literature is vast, so we know a great deal about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (caused by maternal alcoholism) and the damage caused to one and all in terms of social, physical and psychiatric harm.
What are not so widely understood are the effects of sustained and excessive alcohol use on the chemistry of the brain. That is, until recently.
Researchers have found that women who drink more than seven units of wine more than twice a week during early pregnancy may be considerably increasing the susceptibility of their unborn children to a variety of psychological conditions, particularly psychosis.
The correlation is unclear because mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy often lead chaotic lives and many other factors could contribute to this increased risk.
Which should please the large number of education and health professionals who thought that the two glasses of Chateau Blair (with which they recover from their perplexing days) saved them from insanity… if not their children.
However, not such good news for the rest of us: the same study showed a linear correlation between subsequent psychosis and heavy smoking during pregnancy.
It’s enough to make you turn to the bottle, isn’t it?

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From → Health, Policy, Research

4 Comments
  1. Safely? It should be recommended even a single drop of alcohol. Alcohol itself is very harmful even for a normal person, then people just don’t understand and continue drinking. Once in a while is fine for normal person, but for a pregnant women it is not recommended at all. Drinking alcohol could lead to birth flaws, some physical or mental disorders to foetus.

    • I disagree. My main point is that guidance is unclear because the evidence is unclear. You may or may not be making a political point, but there is little evidence to suggest that reasonable care and low levels of alcohol consumption are going to cause FAS or impairments to growth.
      The greater problem in the UK is the tripling of alcohol consumption by under 15s in the past two decades and the serious damage this is doing in terms of alcohol related hospital admissions for children.

  2. Ian permalink

    Not really sure what you’re saying. From what I know of women, most are anxious to protect any child they might be carrying and so would avoid alcohol. Surely the guidance is just that guidance for pregnant individuals, who presumably are also advised against drugs and chaotic lifestyles. Alcohol may be key given that the effects of alcohol are to impair other functions nad may lead to greater likelihood of succumbing to other detrimental-to-the-foetus activities.
    Not sure how this fits with the rest of the population. Are you arguing that they should be allowed a drink? Thought that the current guidance was that moderation was acceptable for all us non-pregnant beings – again in all things and not just alcohol. But where did they come from in this blog?

    • From what I know of women, most will want to minimise the risk to their foetus and will limit alcohol consumption to a ‘safe’ level. I am questioning what is ‘safe’ and the eternal blurring of the message…

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