Pregnant women have traditionally been strongly advised to consume zero alcohol during pregnancy. This means no occasional glass of wine during dinner, no beer during the game and definitely no getting drunk. The effects of alcohol consumption on a fetus are well known, so that recommendation is unsurprising. Babies exposed to alcohol in utero can be born with a host of problems, from abnormal facial features to short stature to low birth weight to severe behavioral and developmental disorders. The problem is, experts don't know exactly how much alcohol consumption can lead to these permanent, lifelong issues, which makes it difficult to say whether any amount of drinking during pregnancy is without risk.
However, in recent years, some studies have shown that light drinking might be A-OK. These studies are never met without controversy, because American medical organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Centers for Disease Control both say there is no guaranteed safe amount.
The advice for pregnant women hasn't been quite so clear in the U.K., where different government agencies give different recommendations. Many suggest no drinking during the first few months, but after that, they note a few a week shouldn't harm your baby. Experts there say that this advice can be confusing, especially since the Department of Health says one or two units a week should be OK, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says that pregnant women can drink up to three units per week (after the first trimester) without harm coming to their unborn child.
This advice is no longer considered cool, and a group of British docs wants its government to come up with a streamlined recommendation across all agencies. "Since there is no known safe limit of prenatal alcohol exposure, the only safe drinking message is to entirely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy," say the experts, who will convene at the British Medical Association's annual conference this week.
Yes, being told you can't drink during pregnancy is a huge bummer for those who enjoy a glass of wine every now and then. But I cannot fault the U.K. or any other government agency, because there really isn't any way to know where the line is between "fine" and "very much not fine" when it comes to your baby's health.
So, the pendulum is again swinging away from the "light drinking may be OK" school of thought, but it's still up in the air if it will swing back or not.
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