Experts differ on effects of alcohol in pregnancy


MOTHERS CAN ensure the best start in life for their children by abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy, said the HSE’s national director of family and childcare services.

Gordon Jeyes said he could convince even secondary school principals that this was to the best way to ensure children to fulfil their educational potential and there was statistical evidence to prove it.

“If you want to do one thing in Ireland to raise educational standards, you would want to stop women drinking in pregnancy,” he told a conference organised by Early Childhood Ireland last week.

He stressed he was not just referring to children of women who drink heavily, who suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome, but those of mothers who drink moderately during pregnancy.

Babies of “women who drink moderately in pregnancy have a lower birth weight, development will be held back and they will be behind before they start”, he said.

“The more they fall behind, the more they remain behind. That is where we have got to put money and that will raise standards at Leaving Certificate age.”

His claims were disputed by obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan, a former master of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, who still works there. He said he was not aware of any research that suggested moderate drinking during pregnancy would harm a child’s capacity to develop.

“There is no evidence to suggest that a moderate alcohol intake harms a baby in any way,” he said. He added that there was some evidence that the opposite was the case – that women who drink moderately during pregnancy have babies with better outcomes in the long-term.

But he stressed that this may have nothing to do with alcohol and is more likely to be the result of the children being born to middle-class, university-educated women.

“My experience in talking to professional women is that they seem to be more relaxed about drinking during pregnancy,” he said. “There is no evidence that the odd glass of wine does any harm.

“There is a respected group of doctors who say you should not touch alcohol at all during pregnancy. It is a valid point of view, but the problem is that it is not backed up by the evidence.”