Study finds British women most likely to drink alcohol in pregnancy

One in 13 women who consume alcohol in pregnancy will go on to have a child with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Photo of a full wine glass.

Pregnancy news, 29/08/2017

A new study by the Canadian Institute for Mental Health Policy Research has found that British mums are among the most likely in the world to drink alcohol during pregnancy, harming their baby as a result.

Britain came seventh out of 195 countries for the proportion of children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Researchers looked at 24 global studies and found that 32 in every 1000 Britons have FAS, compared with a global average of eight in 1000.

That means four times more children in the UK suffer alcohol-related birth defects than the global average.

To compare, the level in Germany is 20 in 1000, the US is 15 and France is 10.

Fetal alcohol syndrome can occur if a woman drinks alcohol during her pregnancy. As researchers found, one in 13 women who consume alcohol in pregnancy will go on to have a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome.

FAS is caused when alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to her baby through her placenta. As babies can’t process alcohol, it damages cells in their brain, spinal cord and other parts of their body.

Symptoms of FAS include facial abnormalities, heart defects, poor growth and severe mental and developmental problems.

Sandra Butcher, of the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK says, ‘The best way you can protect your baby’s developing brain is to avoid alcohol.’

Our midwife Amina explains,

‘Being pregnant doesn’t mean you have to give up having fun or socialising with friends, but it’s important to make some lifestyle changes to help keep your baby healthy. Alcohol is one of the things that you should give up because it can harm your growing baby. When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your baby. This can seriously affect your baby’s development and cause them long-term damage. Drinking alcohol, especially in the first three months of pregnancy, increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and your baby having a low birth weight. If you need help to stop drinking then it’s important to talk to your midwife, we are here to support you and will not judge you.’

Getting support with alcohol

If you have difficulty giving up alcohol, talk to your midwife or doctor. They will not judge you and will want to support you.

  • Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you're worried about your own or someone else's drinking, call this free helpline on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am - 8pm, weekends 11am - 4pm)
  • Addaction is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of alcohol and drug misuse.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its "12-step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.

More on alcohol in pregnancy

  • Swap sweet drinks for water.

    Food swaps for a healthy pregnancy

    In pregnancy it's important to eat well. If you are used to eating foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat, you can make a few changes that will be good for you and your baby.

  • Photo of a full wine glass.

    Alcohol unit calculator

    The amount of alcohol in a drink is measured in 'units'. One unit refers to 10ml of alcohol.

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