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Pregnancy and Alcohol - a Dangerous Cocktail Warns BMA Scotland

Heavy drinking by pregnant women can cause disorders in their children, says the BMA. These include learning and physical disabilities and behavioural problems which are part of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders [FASD] and can drastically impact on the lives of the individual and those around them. A new BMA report says the reality is that these conditions are completely preventable by not drinking any alcohol during pregnancy.

The report, Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders1, highlights how difficult it can be to detect FASD and how healthcare professionals need more guidance to help them diagnose and treat children suffering from the disorder.

The Chief Medical Officer in Scotland has, for some time, recommended that women avoid alcohol during pregnancy. England recently revised its guidance and now advises the same but if they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, they should not consume more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week.

The BMA report says current guidance regarding drinking during pregnancy can be misinterpreted, as individuals may not clearly understand how many units correspond to what they are drinking. The alcoholic strengths of different beers and wines, and the considerable variation of standard measures used in bars and restaurants and in the home, can make it difficult for women to tell how many units they are consuming.

The report states that evidence is continuing to emerge on the effects of low or moderate prenatal alcohol exposure and until there is clarification the only message is that it is not safe to drink any alcohol during pregnancy or when planning a pregnancy. The BMA is now calling for clear, evidence-based guidelines on alcohol consumption during pregnancy and for women who are planning a pregnancy.

According To Dr Andrew Thomson, a Scottish member of the BMAs Board of Science, said today: Scotland has one of the highest levels of binge-drinking in Europe and a high rate of teenage pregnancies. More Scottish women exceed the recommended limits for alcohol consumption than their counterparts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Pregnant women should try to reduce their alcohol intake, or better still give up completely. It is, however, important, that women who drank alcohol before realising they were pregnant do not panic.

We need to raise awareness of the emerging evidence on FASD among healthcare professionals and provide training and guidance on how to identify these disorders so that children are diagnosed quickly and get the help they need. Early intervention is crucial in decreasing the risk of additional problems commonly found in individuals affected by these disorders. These include mental health problems, disrupted school experience, alcohol and drug addictions.

Healthcare professionals also need to find ways to get the message across to expectant mothers that consuming alcohol can cause irreversible harm to their unborn child. People need to be given the right information so that they can act responsibly and save their children from preventable life-long disabilities.

According To Dr Bruce Ritson, chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) said today that he supported the BMA's call for more research: "Many mothers are aware that drinking during pregnancy is hazardous and behave responsibly once they know they are pregnant. A balanced approach is sensible but we do not wish to raise anxiety in mothers who may be worried about their past drinking. It is most important that mothers who are drinking in a potentially damaging way can obtain considered and non-judgemental advice."


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