Telling pregnant women not to drink alcohol is 'sexist', say experts
Senior academics have called on society to re-evaluate how pregnant women are treated if they decide to drink alcohol.
Experts at the University of Kent and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) have deemed the official British government guidelines on drinking during pregnancy, which advise women to avoid alcohol completely, 'alarmist' and say there is no evidence to support them.
Furthermore, the groups believe the rules have led to women being stigmatised and accosted in public by strangers.
According to Dr Ellie Lee, Director of the Centre of Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent, the “exclusion of women from an ordinary activity on the basis of a precaution” is “sexist”.
Dr Lee told The Telegraph: “Public discourse has become very hostile and there is now an assumption that a pregnant woman holding a glass of wine is doing something absolutely wrong,” she said.
“Women are being accosted, spoken to and started at in public.
“People assume that just because you have had one drink you’ve had a bottle of vodka for breakfast.”
BPAS are asking the government to address the tone of their pregnancy guidelines and update them to include unbiased information.
Here in Ireland, the HSE advises that drinking alcohol during pregnancy puts the unborn baby at risk of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), which encompasses a wide range of developmental problems caused by exposure to alcohol during pregnancy that may lead to life-long difficulties.
According to Dr Mary O’Mahony, HSE Specialist in Public Health Medicine, women who may have had the occasional drink before they realised they were pregnant should not be worried, but cutting out alcohol completely is both the safest and healthiest approach for the unborn baby.
However, Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at BPAS, wants official bodies to be clearer with the facts: “There can be real consequences to overstating evidence, or implying certainty when there isn’t any." she said.
“Doing so can cause women needless anxiety and alarm – sometimes to the point that they consider ending an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy because of fears they have caused irreparable harm.
“But just as importantly, it assumes women cannot be trusted to understand risk, and when it comes to alcohol, the difference between low and heavy consumption.”