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New Alcohol in Pregnancy Guidelines Issued in the UK

by Katlyn Joy | February 21, 2015 12:00 AM
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The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have issued updated guidelines for women and alcohol. They have made them stricter and more in line with the US standards advising women to avoid alcohol in the time period when trying to conceive as well as during breastfeeding.

It is recommended that pregnant women drink no alcohol during the pregnancy, but especially during the first trimester when the fetus is in a critical development period and most vulnerable to chromosomal damage from alcohol.

The RCOG also now recommends that women who are trying to conceive abstain from drinking alcohol, and the same advice is given for those breastfeeding. This is a change from previous RCOG guidelines.

Where the RCOG differs from US health organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is in stating that drinking small amounts of alcohol after the first trimester doesn't appear dangerous. US and other health groups in the international community warn against alcohol use during any period of pregnancy.

The RCOG makes the following recommendations for pregnant women who wish to drink after the 12th week of pregnancy: drink no more than two units of alcohol no more than twice a week. You should also never binge drink, which is having six of more units of alcohol at one time.

To determine units in alcohol, the following guidelines are used:

One unit equals 10 ml or 8 grams of pure alcohol. For a small glass of wine, the measurement would be 1.5 units. A standard glass of wine equals 2.1, while a large glass would be 3 units. A pint of high strength lager, beer or cider equals 3 units; lower strength is 2 and a 440 ml can is also 2 units. A 25 ml shot of spirits such as rum, gin, whiskey, vodka, tequila or sambuca would be 1 unit and a 35 ml large shot would be 1.4 units.

To be aware of how much alcohol you are drinking, check the glass size, the alcohol strength and how full your glass is. Heavy drinkers, both mothers and fathers-to-be, should cut back before trying to conceive. Heavy drinking is more than 6 units of alcohol daily.

Views on Pregnancy and Alcohol in the U.S.

The US and much of the international health community takes a harsher stance on drinking in pregnancy than the RCOG.

ACOG states, "Maternal alcohol use is the leading known cause of mental retardation and is a preventable cause of birth defects."

Children exposed to alcohol in utero are at risk for growth deficiencies, facial deformities, central nervous impairment, behavioral disorders, and impaired intellectual development. Consuming alcohol during pregnancy also increases the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and stillbirth."

ACOG and the CDC advise women trying to conceive abstain from drinking, since you are typically pregnant before you even know it and the embryo is quite vulnerable in this period. They also advise women who are capable of pregnancy and not using contraception while sexually active also not drink, as half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and again, you are often pregnant for a time before you find out.

While the RCOG states there is no proof light drinking hurts babies after the first trimester, the CDC states that there is no safe time to drink while pregnant.

CDC material states, "The baby's brain is developing throughout pregnancy and can be affected by exposure to alcohol at any time."

They also state that growth and central nervous system problems can occur with drinking at any point in pregnancy. There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink in pregnancy, so it's advisable to avoid it altogether during this time.

Should you have already been drinking before finding out you were pregnant, discuss it with your physician. If you are having trouble stopping drinking, talk to your health care provider. They can provide you with contacts to help you stop and provide support. It's important you get help as soon as possible for the best outcome for you and baby.


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