New campaign has been launched in Northern Ireland to warn about dangers of exposing unborn children to alcohol.
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Women who binge drink and later find out they were pregnant have been very worried about foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
The British Pregnancy Advice Service (BPAS) says there is “no need” for an abortion in such cases, as there is “minimal” damage to babies from isolated episodes of binge drinking by their mothers.
FAS is a rare but serious condition that can cause:
- facial deformities
- restricted growth
- learning and behavioural disorders
- a poor memory or short attention span
BPAS says this risk is incredibly small and women should not needlessly fear their behaviour has damaged their baby.
Pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether, says the British government. And if alcohol really must be consumed, it should be limited to the equivalent of one small glass of wine, once or twice a week, it adds.
This advice is mirrored by the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, (RCOG), which says the safest option for women is not to drink at all for the first 12 weeks and then minimal amounts per week after that.
Meanwhile, national guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence say women should not drink for the first three months of their pregnancy, to minimise the risk of miscarrying.
And after that, it says pregnant mothers should drink only one to two units a week.
Binge drinking during pregnancy tends to have an “all or nothing” effect, says the RCOG, “It tends to cause a miscarriage or it has no harmful effect.”
It says the effects of drinking are “most harmful” just before pregnancy, due to the way alcohol hampers fertility, in both men and women – the mechanism of which is largely unknown.
Later in pregnancy, the shared blood supply between the mother and her baby via the placenta means that any alcohol that is consumed could easily reach the baby.
Before this – soon after conception and often prior to the woman finding out she is pregnant – could be a different matter.
New draft guidelines from the government are expected to be released in the middle of next year – until then, the Department of Health suggests anybody concerned they have drunk too much alcohol during pregnancy should contact their doctor.