“Scare stories” about binge drinking while pregnant are driving women to request unnecessary abortions for fear they might have caused their babies serious harm.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the UK’s leading abortion specialists, has said that media reports that even one episode of binge drinking while pregnant could lead to lifelong damage to the baby were causing “serious and unnecessary distress”.
They said that evidence suggested the risk of physical or neurological damage to babies from isolated episodes of binge drinking – consuming six or more units in one sitting, the equivalent of three glasses of wine – were “minimal”.
Warnings over drinking, including media reports last month that one episode of binge drinking could cause lasting damage to a child’s mental health and even harm school results, have led to BPAS “regularly seeing women so concerned they have harmed their baby before they knew they were pregnant, they consider ending what would otherwise be a wanted pregnancy”, the advisory and abortion service said.
Experts remain uncertain on the exact safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommends that women avoid alcohol altogether for the first three months of pregnancy, because of the risk of miscarriage, and to stick to no more than one or two units, once or twice a week for the remainder of the pregnancy.
BPAS said it was important to recognise that “occasional binges” were a “fact of life” for women of reproductive age.
“Inevitably that means significant numbers of women will have drunk fairly heavily before finding out they were pregnant,” they said.
Last month’s reports were based on a single study carried based on data from nearly 4,000 people.
Drinking heavily throughout pregnancy is known to be linked with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, which causes developmental problems and deformities in children of some alcoholic mothers.
But Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said that women should be “reassured that the odd night of heavy drinking before they found out they were pregnant is extremely unlikely to have caused their baby harm”.
“It concerns us greatly that when women with wanted pregnancies are driven to consider abortion because they needlessly fear their behaviour has damaged their baby,” she said.