It is well accepted that heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a risk factor for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but research findings for exposure to low to moderate alcohol levels during pregnancy are equivocal, allowing a range of interpretations.
The 2001 guideline from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for low-risk drinking for “women who are pregnant or might soon become pregnant” recommends fewer than seven standard drinks per week, and no more than two standard drinks on any one day. This position has polarised health professional and consumer opinion in Australia.
The NHMRC guidelines on alcohol are scheduled for review in 2007. We surveyed the alcohol and pregnancy policies and clinical practice guidelines of Australia and six other English-speaking countries to identify current policy. Documents were obtained through Internet searches and direct contact with the relevant organisations.
The policies and guidelines varied both across and within countries, and the NHMRC guideline, while not universally supported in Australia, is in step with the policies of the United Kingdom and Canada.
Research is needed to elucidate the true association between low to moderate alcohol consumption and fetal harm, the impact of different policies on rates of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and any untoward outcomes of an abstinence message, to inform and underpin future policy development in Australia.
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