Pregnant women can safely drink a small glass of wine each day, official advice is set to say.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has produced draft guidance stating that pregnant women can consume up to 1.5 units of alcohol a day after the first three months of pregnancy.
The recommendation contradicts the Department of Health, which in May advised pregnant women and those trying to conceive to cut alcohol altogether rather than limit it.
Nice said there was ‘no consistent evidence’ to show a small amount of alcohol damaged unborn children.
The guidelines are out for consultation and are due to be published in March.
‘No consistent evidence of harm’
A Nice spokesman said: ‘The experts developing this guideline have carried out a systematic review of all the evidence available on the risks of drinking alcohol in pregnancy.
‘The recommendations in the draft guideline are based on this evidence.
‘The experts have concluded that there is no consistent evidence of adverse effects from low to moderate alcohol during pregnancy (less than one drink or 1.5 units per day) but the evidence is probably not strong enough to rule out any risk.’
The risks of birth defects, miscarriage and behavioural problems among children of drinking mothers were considered.
The experts concluded women should avoid alcohol only during the first trimester, but said drinking led to a slightly higher risk of miscarriage.
A small 125ml glass of red or white wine is just under 1.5 units, the Department of Health said. Half a pint of 5% lager or strong cider or a bottle of alcopop are also 1.5 units. A 25ml measure of spirits is one unit.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the ‘safest option’ was for pregnant women to abstain from drinking.
The government has said women who do choose to drink during pregnancy should have no more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week.
Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics for baby charity Tommy’s, said: ‘There has been continued confusion over the levels of alcohol that are considered safe or unsafe for women to consume during pregnancy.
‘Whilst there is current evidence to support the recommendations from Nice, suggesting that consuming small amounts of alcohol may not put the foetus at risk, the big problem is that there is often much misunderstanding amongst pregnant women as to exactly what a small amount of alcohol is considered to be, and that is something that certainly can put the fetus at risk, as even a couple of glasses of wine have been linked to causing harm to the baby.
‘There is also well documented research which proves a link between continued alcohol consumption throughout pregnancy and a condition called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which affects thousands of children each year and is the leading cause of learning difficulties.
‘To avoid any confusion, the current message from the Government provides a simple guideline for women to follow insofar as no alcohol means no risk.’
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