Telling women not to drink alcohol during pregnancy is ‘sexist’ and causes unnecessary anxiety, academics have claimed.
Mums-to-be who do choose to have a tipple often face hostility when there is little solid evidence that light or moderate drinking can be harmful.
Pregnancy charities and researchers are therefore calling for a change to the ‘alarmist’ official Government guidelines, which warn expectant mothers to abstain from drinking alcohol completely.
Though consistent heavy drinking during pregnancy may lead to pregnancy complications including foetal alcohol syndrome, public policy surrounding alcohol the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Ellie Lee, director of the centre of parenting culture studies at the University of Kent believes advice for pregnant women has “gone down an overtly precautionary route.”
While Dr Lee did say it was impossible to establish the safe level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy, she believed pregnant women seen drinking in public face unfair criticism.
“Public discourse has become very hostile and there is now an assumption that a pregnant woman holding a glass of wine is doing something absolutely wrong,” she said.
“Women are being accosted, spoken to and stared at in public. People assume that just because you have had one drink you’ve had a bottle of vodka for breakfast.”
Dr Lee went on to say that the official guidelines cause pregnant women to be placed under intense scrutiny. “It creates anxiety and impairs ordinary social interaction,” she continued. “And the exclusion of women from an ordinary activity on the basis of ‘precaution’ can more properly be called sexist than benign.”
BPAS is also campaigning for a change in the tone of the current guidelines on the basis that it could be needlessly scaring women. So much so that they fear some may be aborting pregnancies because of fears that the alcohol they have drunk will have caused their baby serious harm.
Clare Murphy. Director of External Affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “We need to think hard about how risk is communicated to women on issues relating to pregnancy.”
“There can be real consequences to overstating evidence, or implying certainty when there isn’t any. Doing so can cause women needless anxiety and alarm – sometimes to the point that they consider ending an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy because of fears they have caused irreparable harm.”
She also believes it is important that pregnant women should be trusted to understand risk and the difference between low and heavy alcohol consumption.
“Women don’t stop being people with the capacity and the right to make their own informed choices just because they are pregnant,” she said.
Last year Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, was accused of ‘scaremongering’ after issuing updated formal advice on alcohol consumption for all adults, reducing the recommended weekly intake from 21 to 14 units, and advising pregnant women not to touch alcohol at all.
Previous guidelines said that pregnant women need not avoid alcohol completely, but noted that if they did choose to drink, they should not consume more than 1 or 2 units once or twice a week.
BPAS and members of the University of Kent are set to debate the guidelines at a conference at Canterbury Christ Church University today.
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