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Health chiefs have backtracked on controversial plans to record even a single glass of wine drank by mothers during pregnancy on their baby’s medical certificate.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) bosses wanted to record all alcohol intake of mothers-to-be.
It claimed the move would help to identify children at risk of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) — an array of mental and physical birth defects, such as organ issues and learning difficulties, caused by expectant mothers drinking.
Charities were outraged by the plans, claiming they would be a ‘gross infringement’ of data privacy and burn the trust between women and healthcare professionals.
But in final guidelines published today, NICE confirmed it has completely scrapped the recommendation.
Draft guidelines on diagnosing and preventing foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) by NICE outlined that all alcohol consumed by pregnant women should be logged on their child’s health records. But in final guidelines published today, NICE confirmed it has backtracked on the recommendation
WHAT IS FOETAL ALCOHOL SPECTRUM DISORDER?
Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder refers to health complications in babies that are caused by their mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Alcohol in an expectant mother’s blood can be passed to the baby through the placenta.
Babies cannot process alcohol well, meaning it stays in their body for a long time.
It can damage their brain and body and stop them developing normally in the womb.
This can result in miscarriage, while babies who survive could be left with lifelong health problems.
The risk of FASD increases in relation to how much alcohol is consumed during pregnancy.
Symptoms of FASD include problems with movement, balance, vision, hearing, learning, speech, joints, muscles, bones and organs.
Around 10 per cent of children with FASD have three facial features, including small eyes, a thin upper lip and a smooth philtrum – the area between the nose and mouth.
There is no treatment for FASD and damage to a child’s brain and body cannot be reversed.
But health workers can provide support and advice.
Dr Paul Chrisp, director of NICE’s centre for guidelines, said the final version will ‘improve the diagnosis and care offered to children and young people with FASD’.
They will also ensure women are given ‘consistent advice about their alcohol consumption during pregnancy’, he said.
‘Helping women to drink less or no alcohol during their pregnancy will reduce the number of children and young people affected by FASD,’ Dr Chrisp added.
Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said it is ‘absolutely staggering’ that the original proposal ‘which had no basis in evidence’ was ‘ever suggested by NICE in the first place’.
Mothers in the UK have been advised not to drink any alcohol when pregnant or planning a pregnancy since 2016.
Around four in 10 women drink during pregnancy, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. And four per cent of children are thought to be affected by FASD.
The original guidelines stated that maternity service providers had to ask expectant mothers how much alcohol they drank during pregnancy.
Under the plans, this information would have been recorded and transferred to their GP and health visitors after the birth to log on the child’s health records.
Scotland has already adopted the measure, but NICE’s recommendation would have seen them implemented in England and Wales.
Pregnant women are currently asked about what they have drunk since conception but medics are not obliged to record that information.
Ms Murphy, from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the ‘vast majority of women’ don’t drink alcohol once pregnancy is confirmed.
She said: ‘While we are pleased to see that the recommendation regarding the transferral of data from a woman’s medical records on to those of her child has been dropped, we remain concerned about the routine questioning of women throughout pregnancy on this issue.
‘Our research shows women find antenatal discussions about alcohol – even when they don’t drink at all – can supercede other issues important to them, like their own mental health and wellbeing.
‘Those supporting pregnant women must be able to provide care that meets the needs of the individual before them, not just to fill in boxes on a checklist.’