Is It Safe to Drink Small Amounts of Alcohol During Pregnancy?

The National Institute For Health and Clinical Excellence (or NICE) recently claims that pregnant women can drink up to 1.5 units of alcohol (or one and a half small glasses of wine) without harming the unborn child. This comes after the Department of Health advises that expectant mothers should abstain from drinking entirely. So between these contradicting sets of advice, where is the truth?

A NICE draft document claims that the evidence is unclear behind the Department of Health's recommendation to avoid alcohol during pregnancy. NICE advisers, who include doctors and midwives, have come this conclusion after reviewing multiple studies on drinking during pregnancy. They claim that, although it can possibly increase the risk of miscarriage, it appears that small amounts of alcohol do not harm an unborn baby.

They suggest that instead of cutting out alcohol altogether, pregnant women should limit their consumption to 1.5 units a day and avoid it during the first three months of pregnancy. However, the Department of Health continues to advise women to avoid alcohol altogether if they are pregnant or trying to conceive since it is 'straightforward' and 'simple'.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy does pose risks for fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes low birth weight, flattened features, heart and kidney abnormalities, deafness and brain damage. The less serious fetal alcohol spectrum disorder causes attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, and poor coordination. Experts recommend that women who insist on drinking during pregnancy should be counseled over their consumption and that abstinence is the 'safest option'.


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