Skip to main content

Ask the Expert

Article and Poll Spotlight Public Misperceptions of Drinking During Pregnancy - February 2014

On January 31, 2014, the online British newspaper The Telegraph published an article by Beverley Turner, journalist and mother of three. Ms. Turner candidly admits that she drank alcohol during each of her pregnancies. However, she believes that recent comments by Dr. Neil Aiton, a pediatrician at the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals, have raised a debate regarding the use of alcohol during pregnancy that needs to be addressed. She states that this is very important as more women are drinking more “booze” more often.

Good doctors, as Ms. Turner indicates, base their views on evidence. When it comes to the effects of maternal alcohol use, the comments of Dr. Aiton were blunt: “We have firm evidence that drinking alcohol regularly is damaging,” and that the developing fetus can experience “long-term neurological and psychological damage.”

Ms. Turner noted that, according to drinkaware.co.uk, alcohol use in pregnancy is the leading known cause of intellectual disability. In Britain, almost 7,000 babies each year are born with the signs of alcohol-related developmental damage.

Along with this article, The Telegraph offered an online poll on attitudes about alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Readers were offered four response options to the question, “Do you think pregnant women should be allowed to drink alcohol?”

  • Yes, as long as it’s infrequent and small amounts
  • No, why can’t they just abstain for nine months
  • No, we don’t know the risks
  • Yes, everything within reason is fine

Of the first 2,000 readers to respond, over 60% selected one of the two ‘yes’ options.

As the FASD specialist with the SAMHSA FASD Center for Excellence, I am troubled by these results. They shine a spotlight on the ongoing misperceptions in the general public about alcohol use in pregnancy. Given the amount of accumulated evidence on the risks to the fetus of prenatal alcohol exposure, and the lifelong impact of FASD, the message needs to be consistent and clear that there is no known amount or type of alcohol that has been proven to be safe to drink at any time during pregnancy.

At the FASD Center, we strive to get this message across to all women who are pregnant, are thinking of getting pregnant, or have been in a situation where they might become pregnant. For the woman who is pregnant, we encourage the spouse, family members, friends, and caregivers to support her in the decision to avoid alcohol by offering positive encouragement and accurate information that focuses on her health and the health of her baby. Ms. Turner correctly states that we cannot ban pregnant women from drinking, but we can hope that “better education leads to better personal choices and more individual responsibility.”

You can read the full article and see the poll here.

Results of a recent survey on women and drinking in the U.S. are discussed in our January Ask the Expert column. For more information on the impact of FASD, please see our About FASD and Frequently Asked Questions about FASD pages. For our readers who have a friend or family member who is pregnant, our Have A Healthy Baby series of brochures provides tips on how to offer encouragement and support to avoid alcohol.

About the Expert

About the Expert: Mr. Dan Dubovsky, M.S.W., has been the Center’s FASD Specialist for more than 10 years and has a wide variety of experience in the field. Mr. Dubovsky has presented training sessions on FASD and its related secondary disabilities to individuals, organizations, treatment programs, systems of care, SAMHSA grantees, communities, states, and the federal government. He has authored and reviewed curricula on topics including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Child and Adolescent Development, Disturbances in Development, Child Sexual Abuse, Loss and Grief, Psychopharmacology, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Anger Management, and Impulse Control Disorders. Mr. Dubovsky has co-authored several articles on FASD prevention and treatment that have been published in peer-reviewed journals, and given more than 200 presentations on FASD at regional, national, and international meetings.


DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, and content of this column are those of the authors/experts and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS.