Intended for healthcare professionals


Low level alcohol consumption and the fetus

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 17 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:375
  1. Raja A S Mukherjee, honorary lecturer, learning disability psychiatry (,
  2. S Hollins, professor, learning disability psychiatry,
  3. Mohammed T Abou-Saleh, reader, addictive behaviour,
  4. Jeremy Turk, reader, developmental psychiatry
  1. Department of Mental Health, St George's Hospital Medical School, London SW17 ORE
  2. Department of Clinical Developmental Sciences

    Abstinence from alcohol is the only safe message in pregnancy

    Recently the media in the United Kingdom highlighted the messages presented by one of us (RASM) and researchers from other industrialised countries, that the only safe communication about alcohol consumption in pregnancy is that of abstinence. Unfortunately the scientific basis for this recommendation was not clarified in the media. We provide here examples of the evidence that has led the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries to adopt the abstinence message.

    Fetal alcohol syndrome was first reported in the international literature by Smith and Jones in 1973.1 Before that, Lemoine published a series of 127 cases in France, highlighting the phenotypic presentation of people exposed to alcohol while pregnant.2 The full syndrome is characterised by a combination of short stature, neurocognitive deficits, and a specific triad of facial dysmorphology (short palpebral fissures, flat philtrum, and thin upper lip vermilion).

    Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is an overarching term encompassing the behavioural diagnoses occur …

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