Thursday, 16 June 2011

The gestation of a dubious idea

There’s a good article here on Sp!ked by Ellie Lee arguing that it is moralism, not evidence, that underpins the advice that pregnant women should abstain from alcohol. “Foetal Alcohol Syndrome” is often put forward as a reason for total abstinence from expectant mothers, but, as she points out, this stems from the view the alcohol in any quantity is harmful. While FAS undoubtedly exists, it is something that affects the babies of alcoholics, not of women drinking six units a week.


  1. That's all well and good but do we want to encourage a demographic who can legally wee in the street to drink pints of beer?*

    *May contain humour, and/or irreverence

  2. I posted this from my research on Chris Snowdon's blog. Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is thankfully very rare.

    It does not seem that FAS is that common <0.3%. Which is in line with the accepted scotch on the cornflakes in the morning figure of 0.4%.

    "Catchment data on the incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are derived from the Birth Defects Monitoring Program of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (13). Based on data from 1,500 hospitals, CDC reported the nationwide incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to be 0.3-0.9 per 10,000 births (excluding Native Americans). In contrast, Abel and Sokol (10) surveyed 19 published epidemiologic studies worldwide. The overall rate from all studies was 1.9 cases per 1,000 live births. The average for retrospective studies surveyed by Abel and Sokol was 2.9 per 1,000, compared with 1.1 per 1,000 for prospective studies."

  3. An interesting article. Moral panic about ordinary people drinking alcohol, especially mothers, is of course nothing new. The Hogarth cartoon Gin Lane shows a gin-sodden mother not noticing that her baby has slipped from her grasp and is falling to its death. There has always been an extra dollop of disapproval when a mother is doing the drinking, partly because she doesn't match the unrealistic ideal of motherhood that persists even now. Rationalise it how they like, the advocates of total abstention during pregnancy still cling to such a view, perhaps subconsciously, which may explain why statements without a shred of evidence to support them are promulgated in such a way way in a government initiative.


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