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Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

Volume 13: debated on Thursday 26 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) how many children had been diagnosed as suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome at the latest date for which figures are available;

(2) what training and advice is given to health visitors concerning foetal alcohol syndrome and the need to warn pregnant women;

(3) what advice is given to women when they become pregnant about the dangers of alcohol; and what leaflets are available to general practitioners on this question;

(4) if he will set up a campaign to warn women of the risks of taking alcohol during pregnancy.

Research abroad, primarily in the USA, indicates a syndrome of congenital malformation, particularly of the face, together with low birth weight and stature, and possible mental retardation, in the offspring of some heavy drinking mothers. We know neither precisely what causes the syndrome nor how commonly it occurs. In the United Kingdom, cases have been reported only rarely, but central records are not kept.Some studies carried out in the USA have suggested that regular consumption of alcohol in comparatively small amounts during pregnancy may have a harmful effect on the foetus and may be linked with an increased risk of spontaneous abortion and with low birth weight babies. The evidence is not conclusive. It has not been established that moderate drinking by pregnant women is hazardous.On the evidence available, it is not possible to suggest a safe limit for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and it would be unwise to arouse undue alarm and guilt among women by suggesting definite limits or by advising total abstinence.The advice—given in two of the booklets in the Health Department's "Prevention and Health" series: "Reducing the Risk: Safer Pregnancy and Childbirth" (September 1977) and "Eating for Health" (September 1978)—is that, on general health grounds, alcohol should be taken only in moderation during pregnancy.Similar advice is given also in literature made widely available to mothers-to-be, doctors, midwives and health visitors by the Health Education Council, as part of its "Mother and Baby" campaign. We have no plans for an additional campaign.Responsibility for health visitors' education and training in this field rests with the Council for the Education and Training of Health Visitors.