Alcohol consumption guidelines during pregnancy needed: Study

Before 2001 Australian health guidelines recommended that pregnant women should not consume alcohol. These guidelines were introduced in 1992. In 2001 the consensus guidelines recommended avoidance of “high” blood levels of alcohol but did not say no to lower levels of alcohol. In 2009 National Health and Medical Research Council advised that all women planning a pregnancy, pregnant or breastfeeding should not drink alcohol at all.

With this varying advice most women now are confused about what to do with drinking during this special period of their lives. The Medical Journal of Australia in a new research has found that 80 percent women aged 22-33 years consumed alcohol during pregnancy prior to 2001. Same number of women continued to drink after policy change in 2001. In short the study reflects that majority of the pregnant women are undecided on their alcohol use.

Jennifer Powers, a statistician at the University of Newcastle and co author of the study explained that consuming high levels of alcohol during pregnancy could result in fetal alcohol syndrome which can lead to stunted growth and intellectual disability. However the effect of low or moderate alcohol consumption on the unborn baby is not explained yet. She went on to say that there exists a mass confusion regarding safe levels of alcohol that can be consumed. There could also be another explanation for high alcohol consumption she said. Many women drink before they realize they are pregnant. She explained from the data collected by the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health that a woman's drinking habits prior to pregnancy was the strongest determinant of how much alcohol she would consume while pregnant.

She emphasized on the need for a clear communication of safe levels of alcohol that can be taken during pregnancy. She said, “Alcohol is actually difficult to avoid, and I think it is very hard for young women who are pregnant because they are told so many things to do, or not to do, they're under an awful lot of pressure.” She went on to say, “I don't think anybody really goes out of their way to flaunt these regulations but at the same I just don't think they're getting through to the women at all…Whatever the research eventually shows, the current situation is clearly untenable.”

Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Andrew Pesce, a specialist obstetrician and gynecologist also said that risk of fetal alcohol syndrome with an occasional drink is low. He specified saying, “My advice to my patients would be if they want to take absolutely no risk of harm, don't drink any alcohol…If you have a very low alcohol intake of no more than one drink on any given day no more than once or twice a week then the risk is so low as to be negligible…But if you want to take any risk don't drink at all and you should certainly avoid high levels of alcohol consumption.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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