Pregnant women should not drink any alcohol, new advice suggests

Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on the significance of the latest change to the guidance

Women who are pregnant should not drink any alcohol, new advice suggests.

However, proposals from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that any alcohol consumed by pregnant women should be recorded and put on the child's medical records to spot potential risks to their child, were scrapped.

The proposals had prompted a backlash from campaigners who argued the plans would infringe on a woman's right to privacy, adding they also denied pregnant women the ability to have a frank and confidential conversation with a midwife about alcohol.

The plans were part of NICE’s Quality Standard on the diagnosis and assessment of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), a series of mental and physical birth defects associated with alcohol use during pregnancy.

NICE has now published its latest document on how health and care services can improve the diagnosis, assessment and prevention of FASD, with the standard stating that pregnant women are asked about their alcohol use throughout their pregnancy and this is recorded, but without automatically being transferred to the child's health record.

“We welcome the decision by NICE to drop proposals to automatically transfer any alcohol consumption reported by a pregnant woman to her child’s medical records", British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) Chief Executive Clare Murphy said.

She said it was "absolutely staggering" that the measures were ever suggested by NICE in the first place, adding they had "no basis in evidence."

Ms Murphy went on to say the vast majority of women do not consume alcohol once pregnancy is confirmed, or they consume at levels not associated with harm.

She added BPAS remained concerned by the routine questioning of pregnant women on alcohol use, and said BPAS research showed women can find discussions about alcohol can supersede other issues like mental health and wellbeing.

“Those supporting pregnant women must be able to provide care that meets the needs of the individual before them, not just to fill in boxes on a checklist", Ms Murphy continued.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of NICE’s centre for guidelines, said children with FASD often have a poorer quality of life, adding the quality standard aims to improve the diagnosis and care offered to them, as well as ensuring women are given consistent advice about their alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

"Helping women to drink less or no alcohol during their pregnancy will reduce the number of children and young people affected by FASD", Dr Chrisp said.