Confusion continues over risks of drinking during pregnancy

Minister says there is no consistent evidence of damage to children from moderate drinking during pregnancy, in contrast to advice from professional medical bodies

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The Independent Online

The ongoing debate as to whether pregnant women should go teetotal during pregnancy continues, as Public Health Minister Jane Ellison tells Parliament that there is no “consistent evidence of adverse effects” of low to moderate alcohol consumption for expectant mothers.

The Conservative MP for Battersea, who was first elected to Parliament in 2010, was answering a question in the House of Commons, following Labour MP Bill Esterson’s request for the Government to “clear up the confusion” surrounding alcohol drinking during pregnancy.

Esterson addressed the Minster, urging her ”to clear up the confusion in the advice available to pregnant women at the moment, which on the one hand says don't drink at all and on the other hand says if you do drink only have one or two units.“

These comments by Ms Ellison, suggesting that there is no conclusive evidence to show moderate drinking causes complications during or after pregnancy, appear to be in stark contrast to the view taken by the British Medical Association (BMA), the trade union and professional association for doctors and medical students in the UK.

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Jane Ellison MP meeting the Prime Minister

BMA President Elect and former Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green, remarked at a recent conference that “it has to be concluded that there is no ‘safe’ limit for alcohol consumption during pregnancy,” calling instead for pregnant women to steer clear of drink.

“Exposure to alcohol before birth is one of the most significant causes of childhood brain damage learning disability, poor behaviour and even criminality,” remarked Aynsley-Green, “affecting up to one in every 100 infants.”

This conflicting advice from the Government and health professionals comes on the same day that new research suggests drinking amongst pregnant women is prevalent in the UK.

The research, undertaken by experts at the University of Cambridge, is based on questioning almost 18,000 women across the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Their findings suggest that 75 per cent of pregnant women in the UK drank some alcohol during pregnancy, and a third of those women would binge drink, equating to more than six units in one session.

These statistics from the University of Cambridge paint a very different picture to the figures from the Office of National Statistics, who in 2013 found that 72% of women did not drink alcohol when pregnant.

With vastly differing advice and data, the Government has now called for a review of their guidance on the issue, with findings expected to be announced in the next six months.

A Department of Health Spokesperson told the Independent:

“Figures show the amount of UK women drinking alcohol is steadily falling — this is in line with our current advice that it should be avoided. The Chief Medical Officer is reviewing all guidelines for drinking and these are expected later in the year.”

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