IT'S an uncomfortable truth, but we are rapidly coming to the conclusion that no level of alcohol can be deemed entirely safe, despite the UK government’s advice of 14 or fewer units per week, spread out, with several alcohol-free days.

This is of even greater importance during pregnancy, and also the period of trying for a baby. Since 2016, the Chief Medical Officer for England and Wales has recommended “no alcohol to be consumed in pregnancy and when planning a pregnancy”.

Yet despite this, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) remains the commonest, yet most preventable, non-genetic developmental disorder.

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Though textbooks talk about the classic facial features of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), the most severe end of the spectrum of FASD, these only affect 10% of babies. The facial features develop between 6-9 weeks, so alcohol exposure during this time is more likely to affect facial characteristics.

Abnormalities include small narrow eyes, a smooth philtrum (the ridge between the nose and upper lip), a thin upper lip, microcephaly (small head) and reduced stature. With age, some of these may appear less obvious.

Yet the effects of alcohol on the unborn child can last a lifetime. FASD is associated with poorer achievement at all levels, difficulties with social interaction, increased risk of severe mental illness, and greater likelihood of criminal behaviour.

Daily Echo:

When a mother drinks, alcohol passes through the placenta and into the baby’s circulation. Because the unborn child’s liver has not developed, it builds up in their system affecting the brain, spinal cord and all other organs. The blood alcohol level of the foetus will be exactly that of the mother. This exposure affects all organs, resulting an array of physical and mental health complications.

Current advice is that even children up to the age of 18 ideally shouldn’t consume alcohol as their brains are still growing. The period in the womb represents the most rapid phase of blossoming, literally from a fused sperm and egg to a living being, so any exposure here has the greatest potential for significant future harm.

If you have been drinking and then discover you are pregnant, this does not necessarily mean your child will be affected by FASD.

But, if you are struggling with your alcohol consumption, please seek the appropriate help.