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Pregnant Women are advised not to drink any alcohol during pregnancy.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has said that if they must drink, they should not do so in the first three months and should then only drink one or two units once or twice a week afterwards. This new advice brings NICE in line with government advice and replaces previous guidance saying small daily amounts were fine.
Excessive drinking during pregnancy causes foetal alcohol syndrome which can leave children with a poor sucking reflex, impaired IQ, low birth weight and severe learning and behavioural problems.
Not everyone agrees with such a tough approach, but research into the impact of alcohol is patchy.
NICE decided to tighten its guidance partly because of concern that people are now drinking more than in the past. NICE deputy chief executive Dr Gillian Leng said people, particularly women, were drinking more and the NHS advisory body wanted to send a "clear message".
"I think it reinforces the advice which came out last year. Women should be advised not to drink."
Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, welcomed the new guidance from NICE, stressing how important it was not to drink at the beginning of pregnancy, when the risk of miscarriage was highest.
NICE also made several other recommendations for the care of women in England and Wales who were pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Vitamin D and folic acid supplements should be offered to them to help ward off conditions such as rickets and spina bifida. And screening for sickle cell diseases by week 10 and Down's syndrome between 11 and 14 weeks using the most up-to-date methods should be available.
NICE also called for improvements in the care of pregnant women with diabetes. About 20,000 pregnancies each year are affected by diabetes and, therefore, carry higher risk of miscarriage, birth defects and still birth. The guidance said women should get access to advice and support, in particular to achieve good blood sugar control, before they get pregnant.
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