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Alcohol and pregnancy: Preventing and managing fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

This revised BMA board of science report builds upon the findings detailed in the Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (June 2007).

This report outlines the responsibilities of healthcare professionals and sets out a wide-spectrum of recommendations for policy makers, to improve the prevention, diagnosis and management of these disorders.

Download the report

 

What are fetal alcohol spectrum disorders?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a range of disorders associated with alcohol consumption in pregnancy. A large number of children are born every year in the UK with lifelong physical, behavioural or cognitive disabilities caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. These disorders have a substantial impact on the lives of individuals affected, and those around them.

 

Why did the BMA undertake this work and what's new?

This updated report outlines the responsibilities of healthcare professionals and the wider medical community in managing and reducing the incidence of these disorders, and sets out a wide spectrum of recommendations to address the potential consequence of alcohol use in pregnancy.

The report has been updated to reflect new evidence and data published since 2007, including data on:

  • rates of alcohol consumption in the UK
  • the epidemiology of the disorders in the UK and globally
  • emerging evidence surrounding the potential mechanisms of alcohol teratogenesis

 

How does this align with the BMA's policy on alcohol?

Woman buying alcohol in shop, PregnancyA particular focus of this updated report is the importance of addressing the wider social context in which alcohol consumption during pregnancy takes place, and that to reduce prenatal alcohol exposure there is a need to decrease the overall level of alcohol consumption at a population level.

The introduction of policies aimed at preventing the range of FASD therefore needs to be considered within the wider context of reducing alcohol-related harm in the UK, through measures to reduce the accessibility, availability and promotion of alcohol.

This supports wider BMA policy on the need to reduce the harms associated with alcohol consumption, including through introducing minimum unit pricing of alcohol to reduce hazardous drinking.

Find out more about the BMA's position on alcohol

 

What action does the report propose?

We are calling for the following three broad actions:

  • Consider the wider context
    To reduce prenatal alcohol exposure there is a need to consider the wider social context in which alcohol consumption during pregnancy takes place, and therefore to take actions to reduce alcohol consumption at a population level (as discussed above).
  • Provide clear, reliable guidance
    It is crucial that women who are pregnant or considering a pregnancy are provided with clear, reliable guidance on alcohol consumption that minimises the risk of harm. We believe that the safest approach is for women who are pregnant, or who are considering a pregnancy, should be advised not to consume any alcohol. This is in line with proposed guidance from the UK chief medical officers published in January 2016, recommending that the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all during pregnancy.
  • Improve provision of services for those affected by prenatal alcohol exposure
    Action is required to improve the provision of services and referral pathways for the diagnosis, management and support of people affected by prenatal alcohol exposure. Individuals affected by prenatal alcohol exposure often go without a diagnosis, or are mis-diagnosed, and there are no frameworks for the clinical management of those with FASD in the UK.

 

Who is the report aimed at?

The report is aimed at healthcare professionals and policy makers. For healthcare professionals it aims to raise awareness of the range of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders that can arise as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure, and support them in taking action to improve the prevention, diagnosis and management of FASD.

 

What this report aims to achieve

It is hoped that this report will raise awareness of the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and help to ensure that women who are pregnant or considering a pregnancy are provided with clear guidance that the safest approach is not to consume any alcohol.

It is also hoped that this report will help raise awareness of the lack of services and support in the UK for those affected by prenatal alcohol exposure, and support action in this area.

The cost of alcohol harm

Alcohol is causally related to more than 60 different medical conditions resulting in over 
£2 billion
in healthcare costs.
(Source: Alcohol and public health Lancet 365: 519-30)

After years of campaigning from the BMA, the issue of minimum pricing is where there is the greatest hope of progress.

Read more about our work on alcohol

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