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RCOG release: Alcohol in pregnancy discussed in updated patient information

News 10 February 2015

Women trying to conceive and those in the first three months of pregnancy are advised not to drink alcohol, states updated patient information published today by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

The revised information, based on existing guidance, is for women who are pregnant or are planning to have a baby. It gives advice about what is thought to be a safe amount of alcohol to drink before and during pregnancy. It outlines the effect of drinking above a safe limit on the baby’s development in the womb. It also provides information about help and support available for women who may be drinking above a safe limit.

There is no proven safe amount of alcohol that women can drink during pregnancy. It is also often difficult to work out just how much a woman is drinking, especially if they have a drink at home. The only way to be certain that the baby is not harmed by alcohol is not to drink at all during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, although small amounts of alcohol after the first trimester does not appear to be harmful, states the new patient information.

It is recommended that women do not drink alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy. The guidance states that drinking alcohol may affect the unborn baby as some will pass through the placenta and drinking around conception and during the first three months may increase the chance of miscarriage. After this time women are advised to not drink more than one to two units, more than once or twice a week.

Drinking more than the recommended amount during pregnancy can affect the development of the baby, in particular the way the baby’s brain develops and the way the baby grows in the womb, which can lead to fetal growth restriction, increase the risk of stillbirth and premature labour.

The information also covers fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and the more severe fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which can lead to children having physical and mental disabilities.

Support for women who might drink too much alcohol whilst pregnant is also discussed and women are advised to talk to a healthcare professional who can offer help and advice about local counselling or support services.

Chair of the RCOG’s Patient Information Committee, Philippa Marsden, said:

“For women planning a family, it is advisable not to drink during this time. Either partner drinking heavily can make it more difficult to conceive.

“During early pregnancy, the safest approach is to abstain from alcohol and after the first trimester keep within the recommended amounts if you do decide to have an alcohol drink. The same applies for women who decide to breastfeed.

“If you cut down or stop drinking at any point during pregnancy, it can make a difference to your baby. However, in some instances, once the damage has been done, it cannot be reversed. If you have any questions or concerns about alcohol consumption talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor who can offer support and advice.”

Cath Broderick, Chair of the RCOG Women’s Network, a lay-group of women who inform the College about issues affecting women’s health, added:

“This updated information aims to help women make informed choices about levels of alcohol and has had direct input from women when developing it. Women may receive conflicting advice and be unsure about how alcohol is measured. This advice provides information about what is thought to be a safe amount both before and during pregnancy and chimes with the NICE antenatal guidance.”

Ends

For further information, please contact the RCOG Media and PR team on +44 20 7772 6300 or email pressoffice@rcog.org.uk

The updated information can be found here.

Visit the patient section of the RCOG website here for all patient information leaflets.

NICE Antenatal care guidelines can be found here