Is Alcohol Consumption Safe?

In America, the question of a pregnant woman having alcohol at any time during her pregnancy is almost a moot point. The incidence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) has been enough to cause most medical professionals to urge women to steer clear of drinking while they are pregnant.

Controversy In Britain

However, there are some experts who disagree and say that the individual woman should decide if she wants to drink or not. In May of 2007, the UK Department of Health recommended that a pregnant women not exceed one or two alcohol units once or twice per week. Now, the Department of Health and the British Medical Association say that women who are pregnant should abstain entirely from alcohol.

At that time, Pat O'Brien, Consultant Obstetrician, Institute for Women's Health, in London, wondered why the Department had changed its recommendation when no new evidence had become available to support the decision. He explained that heavy alcohol consumption puts the unborn baby at serious risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, which is an irreversible and serious condition. However, he held that there was no evidence to prove that moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy has any detrimental effects for the long-term. His stance was that telling a woman she should not drink and should totally abstain from alcohol is paternalistic and that she should make the decision herself.

French Women Ill Informed

In May of 2008, a study in France showed that more than half of women in France continued to drink alcohol during their pregnancies. What was also noted is that the researchers discovered that most of these women were uninformed of the risks to their unborn babies by drinking alcohol.

Ingrid de Chazeron of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire, who lead the study said, "Our results surprised us because we didn't think that the women were so massively going to answer that they were so ignorant of the dangers of alcohol during pregnancy." The study compiled data from 837 pregnant women between July 2003 and June 2004. The women survey were asked about their alcohol consumption and a stunning 52.2 percent said they drank alcohol, having at least one drink during that time. Additionally, 13.7 percent of the participants said they had a minimum of one binge-drinking episode where they consumed five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion.

Wine Is Part Of The Lifestyle

Since wine and beer are part of the "regular eating habits" of the French, there is now controversy over the safety of drinking while pregnant. de Chazeron said that at the time of the study women were not aware of the dangers and she went on to say "First, there was not enough campaigning about the dangers of alcohol during pregnancy...and [women] do not believe that small consumption, even regularly, can influence the future of their child."

Alcohol Can Damage An Unborn Baby

There is adequate evidence to prove that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, a primary cause of mental retardation and birth defects. In the French study, two women gave birth to babies with FAS.

It could well be that one drink would not cause problems, but "the potential outcome is definitely not worth the gamble," says Chemen Tate, MD, chief resident of obstetrics and gynecology at Indiana University School of Medicine.

Pregnant women should stop ingesting drugs or drinking alcohol before the short and long-term effects of substance abuse take their toll on their health and their unborn babies.

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