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BPAS comment on “prenatal alcohol exposure and children’s facial shape” study

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Clare Murphy, BPAS Chief Executive, said:

"This study does not provide any evidence regarding pre-natal alcohol consumption and health outcomes. This is a study of the facial features of children at aged 9 and 13, and does not contain any data on the neurological or cognitive development of the children involved. There is no compelling evidence of harm caused by lower levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, let alone evidence that alcohol consumption “several months” prior to conception has any impact on a fetus, as this study claims.

“As a society, we really need to reconsider how risk is communicated to women on issues relating to pregnancy.  There can be real consequences to overstating evidence, or implying certainty when there isn’t any. Doing so can cause women overwhelming anxiety and alarm – sometimes to the point that they consider ending an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy because of fears they have caused irreparable harm.

“Significantly widening the numbers of children deemed at risk of FASD does not lead to the support a small number of youngsters desperately need. We urge researchers to consider the impact that sweeping statements based on little to no evidence can have on women and their babies.

“By pushing the preconception period back to include “several months” before trying to conceive, this study risks furthering an inherently sexist narrative that reduces women to their reproductive capabilities. We live in a culture where women of childbearing age are increasingly treated as “pre-pregnant” – warned against alcohol use, denied medication – on the basis of protecting a hypothetical fetus.  In 2021, the WHO issued draft guidance which called for “appropriate action” for ‘appropriate attention’ to be given to the ‘prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age.’  We need to respect women’s autonomy, right to privacy, and trust women to make the decisions that are right for them without resorting to scaremongering.”

ENDS

For further information, please contact Katherine O’Brien, BPAS Associate Director of Campaigns and Communications, on katherine.o’brien@bpas.org or 07881 265276.

The full study, “Association between prenatal alcohol exposure and children’s facial shape: a prospective population-based cohort study”, by X. Liu et al, is available online here.

About BPAS

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, is a charity that sees over 100,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception at clinics across Great Britain.

BPAS exists to further women’s reproductive choices. We believe all women should have the right to make their own decisions in and around pregnancy, from the contraception they use to avoid pregnancy right the way through to how they decide to feed their newborn baby, with access to evidence-based information to underpin their choices and high-quality services and support to exercise them. 

BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, CRRC. Through rigorous multidisciplinary research and impactful communication, the CRRC aims to inform policy, practice, and public discourse. You can find out more here.