No alcohol in pregnancy is the safest choice
Women should not drink alcohol while pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians was told today in Melbourne.
Professor Elizabeth Elliott, from the Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “No alcohol in pregnancy is the safest choice, particularly in the absence of clear cut guidelines.”
Alcohol causes many problems in pregnancy including
- low birth-weight and
For live born babies, it can cause
- fetal alcohol syndrome,
- neurodevelopment problems and
- birth defects.
“With an increasing trend towards binge drinking and unplanned pregnancy rates, many women are unwittingly putting their babies at risk,” said Professor Elliott.
“We know that high levels of alcohol early in pregnancy do the most harm; the dilemma is whether harm results from intake of low to moderate amounts of alcohol do. This is obviously difficult to determine in the human, but is supported by animal models.”
The National Health and Medical Research Council will release revised guidelines on alcohol and pregnancy by the end of the year.
Currently the NHMRC recommends no more than two standard drinks a day and no more than seven standard drinks a week for pregnant women.
The United States recommends no alcohol and Britain is about to introduce the same recommendations.
The RACP Congress will today hear the findings of a telephone survey of 1103 Australian women about their knowledge, attitudes and practice regarding alcohol use in pregnancy.
Carried out in 2006, the survey found that over a third of women of childbearing age don’t know about the adverse effects of alcohol on the fetus. A similar number would continue to drink during a future pregnancy.
Presented by Dr Elizabeth Peadon, from the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit, the figures highlight the need for ongoing education for women and alcohol drinking in pregnancy.
“While the majority of women in this survey were aware of the effects, a frightening percentage were not and nor were they concerned,” she said.
The survey was the first of its kind in Australia. Professor Elliott is presenting her findings of a surveillance study on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Australia between 2001 and 2004 at today’s RACP Congress.
Australian paediatricians identified 92 newly diagnosed cases from around Australia, with an increasing number of children being reported with FAS each year.
“This is a significant number given the significant health and education needs of affected children. However, we believe that FAS is under-reported in Australia because of lack of knowledge by health professionals, the perceived stigma attached to the diagnosis, and the lack of diagnostic services in Australia” she says.
She urged doctors to talk to their newly pregnant patients about alcohol consumption and to warn them of the potential dangers.