RESEARCH REVIEW – IS IT SAFE TO DRINK ALCOHOL DURING PREGNANCY?
Show an image of an obviously pregnant woman consuming an alcoholic drink and most people will give a negative reaction – it may range from a concerned 'I'm not sure she should be doing that', to outright anger and disgust, but it will probably be negative.
But, is this mum to be really doing damage to her unborn baby?
And when was the last time you actually saw a pregnant woman openly enjoying an alcoholic beverage out in public, be it a bar, restaurant, or friend's house? It's a rare sight.
Does this mean virtually no woman dares to consume an alcoholic drink once she knows she is pregnant?
The answers to these questions might surprise you.
What is not surprisingly is that evidence strongly suggests that regular, heavy, episodic drinking is likely to have a detrimental effect on a developing fetus and the president of RANZCOG states that more than 2 drinks per day is unequivocally bad for babies.
However, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found that low level alcohol consumption, which is defined as seven or fewer drinks per week and no more than two on any one occasion, seemed to have no substantial harm.
So why does there tend to be a zero tolerance attitude to drinking alcohol during pregnancy?
Some doctors express concern that human nature is 'to have a little turn into a lot'. Also, 'approving' a pregnant patient's small amount of alcohol consumption may invite lawsuits were a child to be born with any abnormalities, even if it were completely unrelated. So, in the face of uncontrolled variables it is safer to just advise abstinence from alcohol altogether.
So is there any problem with effectively 'banning' alcohol during pregnancy?
Well for one it may just be unrealistic. According to estimates from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household survey around half of Australian women still report drinking during pregnancy.
Pharmacist and obstetric drug information consultant Ron Batagol is concerned about promoting recommendations that are too stark. There is no benefit in women panicking and wondering unnecessarily, if they should terminate a pregnancy because they had a drink or two. Furthermore, a pregnant woman is less likely to seek medical advice or assistance if she feels she is going to be judged for her choices. Noone is a winner in this scenario.
What are the take home points?
Excessive alcohol and a growing baby are not a good mix and the NHMRC's advice to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy is definitely the safest option. However, studies do not support that the odd glass of wine during pregnancy is sufficient reason to get a head start on Mother's Guilt.