A drop too much in pregnancy

Adam Cresswell, Health editor

December 24, 2004

JUST one and a half drinks a week for a pregnant woman could make the difference between having a child who makes the school cricket team and "the clumsy kid at school".

The Australian Medical Association has warned that pregnant women who drink alcohol risk harming their unborn children even if they heed Australia's existing official guidelines on the consumption of alcohol.

AMA president Bill Glasson said the guidelines -- which merely suggest women "consider" not drinking -- are too lax, and that no alcohol at all while pregnant is the only safe option.

"The current Australian guidelines on drinking during pregnancy are not strong enough and can mislead women to think it's safe to consume alcohol during pregnancy when it clearly is not," Dr Glasson said.

Even moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects known as fetal alcohol syndrome, which may include physical disabilities, mental retardation and problems with learning, memory, problem solving and social and behavioural problems.

The AMA said fetal alcohol syndrome had occurred in women who drank four to five drinks daily or binged on alcohol, but that "possibly just one and a half drinks a week" could be enough to affect fetal development in some women.

"It could make the difference between your child being on the cricket team and being the clumsy kid at school," Dr Glasson said.

The present Australian alcohol guidelines state that pregnant women, or women planning pregnancy, should "consider not drinking at all" and if they do drink, should "have less than seven standard drinks over a week", with no more than two in one day.

The guidelines were compiled by the federal Health Department and are endorsed by Australia's top health standards and advice body, the National Health and Medical Research Council.