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Is drinking while pregnant about to become illegal?

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By NICKY CHAMP

I was in London watching the news when it happened. A giant lump that refused to be swallowed hardened in my throat. A newsreader said the words ‘Drinking alcohol while pregnant could soon be illegal,’ and my stomach dropped. That all-too-familiar mother guilt settled in. Oh God, I thought, just last week I drank two glasses of champagne. I’m 19 weeks pregnant.

The reason why we’re talking about the possible legalities of drinking while pregnant is because a mother in the UK is facing a compensation claim for “excessive drinking” while pregnant. Her now seven-year-old daughter known only as ‘CP’ was born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and now suffers from “growth-retardation” as a direct result of her mother’s drinking.

She is no longer in her mother’s care and it’s her adopted parents who are seeking compensation.

The mother in question didn’t just drink a few glasses of wine a week; the court documents described her alcohol intake as “half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager a day”.

And worst of all was that she “was aware of the dangers to her baby of her excessive consumption during pregnancy”.

The case has drawn interest from the public because any precedent set could pave the way for pregnant women’s behaviour to be criminalised.

So that sneaky piece of soft cheese you scoffed or glass of wine you sipped? It could soon be illegal.

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According to The UK Independent, Ben Collins, who appeared for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) asked the court to reject the case, because of the conflicting information about what is and isn’t considered dangerous when pregnant.

Since no pregnant woman wants to consent to being part of an alcohol study (nor would it be wise to conduct one) medical authorities both here and overseas do not know exactly how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Which is why they now advise it’s best to abstain.

Mr Collins asked whether “a pregnant mother who eats unpasteurised cheese or a soft boiled egg knowing there is a risk that it could give rise to a risk of hard to the foetus” might also find herself accused of a crime.”

In Australia we saw the introduction of labels on all alcohol bottles warning of the dangers of drinking while pregnant in 2012. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that it’s safest not to drink alcohol when planning a pregnancy, pregnant or breastfeeding.

In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) states in its guidelines that women should avoid alcohol altogether during pregnancy, or that if they do choose to drink, it should be no more than one or two units once or twice a week.

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Look away, pregnant women.
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During my first pregnancy (before the 2012 standards kicked in) I didn’t drink at all. It’s not that I was being a saint; I couldn’t stomach the taste of it all and completely went off it.

This time round add in toilet training a toddler, a stressful working life, busy social life and I have been guilty of indulging in the odd sip of my husband’s beer or small glass of champagne on holidays and at an anniversary celebration.

Ask any mother if they drank while pregnant and the vast majority will say yes, they occasionally had a glass. I know plenty of women who did. Back in the 70s it was considered the norm. I also know many who ate sushi.

In France it’s socially acceptable to smoke cigarettes and eat runny cheese while pregnant.

I’m not saying all these things are perfectly okay, but when it comes to creating laws to convict pregnant mothers we need to employ common sense. It’s the reason why we have health guidelines.

The vast majority of us aren’t drinking excessively. And the vast majority of us are already hyper aware of what we’re putting into our bodies, we don’t need the neighbourhood police watching us too.

According to The Independent, The Court of Appeals has reserved its judgement in the case of CP, and said the court will take time to consider its decision.

Did you drink when you were pregnant?

This article was originally published on The Glow and has been republished here with full permission.

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