WOMEN trying to conceive and those in the first three months of pregnancy are advised not to drink any alcohol at all under new updated advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
The college’s previous guidance stated that mothers-to-be should not drink more than two units once or twice per week, but its revised advice states that pregnant women should completely avoid alcohol for the first three months.
There is no proven safe amount that women can drink during pregnancy and 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.
However, small amounts of alcohol after the first trimester do not appear to be harmful, say experts.
After this time, women are advised to not drink more than one to two units, more than once or twice a week. Meanwhile, drinking around conception and during the first three months of pregnancy may increase the chance of miscarriage.
The guidance states that drinking alcohol may affect the unborn baby as some will pass through the placenta and into the unborn child’s bloodstream.
This can affect the baby’s development, in particular the way its brain develops and how it grows in the womb. This can lead to foetal growth restriction, increase the risk of stillbirth and bring on premature labour.
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It could also result in foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and the more severe foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which can lead to children having physical and mental disabilities.
Philippa Marsden, chairwoman of RCOG’s patient information committee, 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.”
Cath Broderick, chairwoman of the RCOG Women’s Network, a lay-group of women who inform the college about issues affecting women’s health, said: “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.”