Midwives and nurses are being encouraged to have frank discussions with pregnant women about alcohol consumption, following the publication of updated patient guidance.
The revised guidelines, launched by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists today, advise women not to drink any alcohol while trying to conceive or in the first three months of pregnancy – a stance supported by the Royal College of Midwives.
“Either partner drinking heavily can make it more difficult to conceive”
While the guidance states drinking small amounts of alcohol after the first trimester does not appear to be harmful, it makes it clear that the safest policy is to abstain altogether.
The document also covers the possible consequences of drinking too much and potential harm to unborn children, such as fetal alcohol disorder and the more severe fetal alcohol syndrome, and outlines sources of help and support for women struggling to cut down.
“For women planning a family, it is advisable not to drink during this time. Either partner drinking heavily can make it more difficult to conceive,” said Philippa Marsden, chair of the RCOG’s patient information committee.
“During early pregnancy, the safest approach is to abstain from alcohol and after the first trimester to keep to within the recommended amounts if you do decide to have an alcoholic drink,” she said. “The same applies for women who decide to breastfeed.”
She noted that midwives, health visitors and GPs were there to provide advice for those with questions and concerns.
“The evidence suggests the cumulative effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy causes harm to the developing fetus”
Janet Fyle, RCM professional policy advisor, said it was important for midwives and nurses to address the question of alcohol consumption with families.
“The evidence suggests that the cumulative effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy causes harm to the developing fetus and can have adverse impacts on newborn babies,” she said.
“This is why the RCM continues to advise woman to abstain from drinking alcohol when pregnant or trying to conceive,” she said.
“We also encourage midwives to have a discussion with pregnant women about these consequences in a non-judgemental way and provide them with appropriate and up-to-date information on alcohol in pregnancy,” she added.
The updated guidance ties in with antenatal guidelines published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.