Drink advice to pregnant women tightenedHealth watchdog advises no alcohol

26 March 2008

A health watchdog has strengthened its advice to pregnant women on how much alcohol they should drink.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) dropped its draft guidance published last autumn which said it was fine for women to drink the equivalent of a small glass of wine daily after the first trimester.

Now, Nice is saying women should avoid alcohol but, if they choose to drink, they should have no more than one or two units once or twice a week.

Drinking confusion

The new guidance is bound to add to the confusion over how much is safe to drink in pregnancy.

Nice admitted today that there was no fresh evidence to support its stance, which will see its views more closely aligned with those of the government.

The Department of Health advised in May 2007 that pregnant women and those trying to conceive should cut out drinking altogether.

One or two units

Women who do choose to drink after the first trimester should have no more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk, it said.

Nice's new guidance echoes this, and says women should not binge-drink during pregnancy (defined as more than 7.5 units on a single occasion).

However, its draft guidance published in autumn offered different advice, saying there no evidence that a small glass of wine a day caused any harm after the first trimester.

Damage

Nice said at the time that there was 'no consistent evidence' to show that a small amount of alcohol damaged unborn children.

Dr Gillian Leng, Nice's implementation systems director, said she did not think Nice and the Department of Health were sending mixed messages to women.

She said both the advice from Nice and the Chief Medical Officer was that 'women should ideally be advised not to drink' but there was 'no evidence' of harm to the baby from one or two glasses of wine a week.

No guarantee

Dr Rhona Hughes, a consultant obstetrician and guideline development group chair, said: 'There's no evidence of definite harm of drinking that level of alcohol per week, but we are unable to guarantee women that there will be no harm.'

She said experts had agreed the new guidance 'with no new evidence because the evidence is poor'.

The advice was to avoid alcohol if you can, but inevitably, some women will drink and the advice to them is one or two units once or twice per week, she added.

Women are told to avoid drinking in the first three months of pregnancy because there may be an increased risk of miscarriage.

Drinking heavily in pregnancy can cause foetal alcohol syndrome, which can leave children with features like small heads, widely spaced eyes and behavioural or learning problems.

© The Press Association, All Rights Reserved