Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), said:
“As noted by the authors, there are limitations to this study, and therefore the results should be interpreted with caution. The data is drawn from an online digital health tool which was designed to provide tailored advice to improve health and pregnancy outcomes. It may be that those using the tool were doing so because they had concerns about their health and wellbeing, and so may not be a representative sample of all women considering or planning a pregnancy. Moreover, the survey did not collect data on the quantity of consumption of caffeine or alcohol, and it may be that many of the respondents were consuming these substances at a low level for which there is no evidence of harm to pregnancy.
“A simple and straightforward intervention to improve pregnancy outcomes would be to introduce the fortification of flour with folic acid. The UK has one of the highest rates of neural tube defects in Europe. Around 1,000 pregnancies are affected every year, and the vast majority will end in the painful decision to terminate what is often a very much wanted pregnancy. Most fetal anomalies sadly are not preventable, but those related to folic acid deficiency can be reduced. This study adds to the already substantial body of evidence that this is a measure that the government should bring forward as soon as possible in order to get the best possible pregnancy outcomes for as many women as possible.
“We need to be very careful that messages around risk in pregnancy are evidence-based and do not cause undue anxiety at what can already be a stressful time for women. Research conducted for our WRISK project found that negotiating a constant stream of pregnancy health messages can sometimes feel confusing, overwhelming, and disempowering. This may negatively affect women’s experiences of pregnancy and motherhood. When we improve the health of the general population, everyone benefits, including pregnant women, and this should be the direction of public health campaigns.”
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BPAS is a charity which 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. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, which seeks to develop and deliver a research agenda that furthers women’s access to evidence-based reproductive healthcare, driven by an understanding of women’s perspectives and needs. You can find out more here: https://www.bpas.org/get-involved/centre-for-reproductive-research-communication/
BPAS will be launching a not-for-profit fertility service in 2021 to provide ethical, evidence-based, person-centred care that supports patients. We intend to only charge what it costs to provide a safe, high-quality, and accessible service to patients who may be unable to access NHS-funded care.