Ministers are to tell manufacturers of alcoholic drinks to put cigarette-style warnings on bottles to warn of the dangers of drinking while pregnant. The move is being fiercely resisted by the drinks industry on the grounds it contradicts the Department of Health’s own official health advice to pregnant women, which allows up to two units a day – the equivalent of a single glass of wine – once or twice a week.
The change has been prompted by growing evidence of the harm alcohol may do to unborn babies, and increasing binge drinking among young women.
Two-thirds of pregnant women admit to drinking during pregnancy, and 1 in 20 says they regularly exceed the Government’s present limit.
But there is a growing body of evidence that even very small amounts of alcohol could result in foetal alcohol syndrome, which causes problems including low birth weight, short stature, flattened features, heart and kidney abnormalities, deafness and brain damage leading to poor hand-to-eye co-ordination and behavioural difficulties.
It is unclear how many children suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome, as brain damage can be related to a number of disorders. But the World Health Organisation estimates one in 100 babies suffers mild effects, while one to three per 1000 have more severe retardation.
Given that over 60% of pregnant women admit to drinking occasionally, critics argue the link is far from proven. The Royal College of Midwives has said it does not tell women to give up alcohol and that while going dry is the safest option “we don’t feel there is anything wrong with having the odd drink”.
A spokeswoman for the National Childbirth Trust said: “We don’t want mothers to feel dreadful if they have been drinking during pregnancy. The risk is quite low, so there is no point torturing yourself about it. Nevertheless, there is growing evidence that even low levels of alcohol can have an effect.”
Complete abstinence is already advised for expectant mothers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France.
“I really look forward to a glass of red wine, with a meal, every few weeks, and I think it’s such a shame that even sensible drinking will now be frowned upon. This latest decision is an over-reaction.” Jemma Mayfield, 30, from Surrey, 20 weeks pregnant.
“We all know alcohol is bad for us so why take the risk? Surely we should be doing everything within our power to keep our unborn babies healthy?” Kate Cameron, 26, from Blackpool, 32 weeks pregnant.
What do you think?