Pregnant women advised not to touch 'a drop of alcohol'

Pregnant women should not touch a drop of alcohol, as there was no evidence of a ''safe'' threshold, according to doctors.

According to experts in paediatrics and pregnancy, writing in the BMJ, women planning a family were getting too much ''conflicting advice'' that could put their child at risk.

Mary Mather, a retired paediatrician, and Kate Wiles, a doctoral research fellow in obstetric medicine at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, said the "only ethical advice that can be given is complete abstinence from alcohol in pregnancy".

Babies could suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome, mental retardation, development and behavioural abnormalities, and low birth weight, due to exposure to alcohol in the womb.

The authors said women were facing a "contradictory, confusing barrage of mixed messages'' about how to approach pregnancy.

The Department of Health in the UK recommends avoidance of alcohol altogether for women.

However, it added if they opted to have a drink, they should not have more than one or two units of alcohol (equivalent to one or two small glasses of wine) once or twice a week.

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists', Dr Patrick O'Brien who admitted advice was conflicting, the solution was not to say, ''The solution is not to say, 'We've confused you, so just abstain.' We need to resolve these inconsistencies.''

The doctors said in the BMJ article, how and when foetal damage occured was unknown and will vary according to each individual pregnancy.

They add, "Pregnant women must know there is no evidence of a threshold level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy below which there can be certainty that exposure is safe."

Current guidance ran counter to evidence and other countries, including the US, Canada, Denmark, France, Norway, Israel, Mexico, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Spain recommended no alcohol in pregnancy, they said.

The number of women who had given up alcohol completely in pregnancy was rising. Latest figures showed 48 per cent of women who normally drank alcohol gave it up, as against 33 per cent in 2005.