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Pregnancy: Smoking And Alcohol Consumption

Volume 416: debated on Monday 19 January 1981

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asked Her Majesty's Government:What steps have been taken by the Department of Health and Social Services to evaluate the dangers to the foetus of smoking and alcohol consumption by the mother, especially in the first six weeks to two months of pregnancy.

The dangers to the foetus due to smoking by the mother are now well established and have been widely published by the health departments and the Health Education Council. Any new research on the subject is carefully studied by the DHSS and by the Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health, which advises Health Ministers on the scientific aspects of smoking and health. The committee is currently considering this problem with a view to recommending future studies.So far as alcohol consumption is concerned, research studies abroad have pointed to the existence of a foetal alcohol syndrome—a range of mental and physical abnormalities observed in a number of children born to heavy drinking mothers. Others suggest that minor degrees of handicap may also affect the offspring of more moderate drinkers. There is no consensus of clinical opinion in this country. The DHSS has urged the Medical Research Council to consider as a priority the need for fundamental research into the relationship between drinking in pregnancy and foetal harm. The health departments and the Health Education Council currently advise women to keep alcohol intake to a minimum during pregnancy.