18/05/2017 09:36 BST | Updated 18/05/2017 09:36 BST

Official Alcohol Guidelines For Women Not To Drink During Pregnancy Is 'Sexist', Experts Claim

'It creates anxiety and impairs ordinary social interaction.'

Alcohol guidance for pregnant women is “sexist” and causes “needless anxiety”, experts have claimed.

At a conference held today (Thursday 18 May) - Policing Pregnancy: Who Should Be A Mother? - academics will discuss evidence behind the official advice. 

Government guidance issued in 2016 stated that “no level of alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy”.

However Ellie Lee, director of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent, who will be speaking at the conference, disagrees.

“Official advice about drinking in pregnancy has gone down an overtly precautionary route,” she said, according to PA

“The scrutiny and oversight of the behaviour the official approach invites is not benign. It creates anxiety and impairs ordinary social interaction.

“And the exclusion of women from an ordinary activity on the basis of ‘precaution’ can more properly be called sexist than benign.” 

Jamie Grill via Getty Images

Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which helped to organise the conference, said: “We need to think hard about how risk is communicated to women on issues relating to pregnancy.

“There can be real consequences to overstating evidence, or implying certainty when there isn’t any.

“Doing so can cause women needless anxiety and alarm, sometimes to the point that they consider ending an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy because of fears they have caused irreparable harm.

“But just as importantly, it assumes women cannot be trusted to understand risk, and when it comes to alcohol, the difference between low and heavy consumption.

“Women don’t stop being people with the capacity and the right to make their own informed choices just because they are pregnant.”

However leading midwives have reiterated guidance for pregnant women to avoid drinking alcohol.

Janet Fyle, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said, according to PA: “The RCM’s advice has always been clear and unequivocal; if you are thinking of becoming pregnant or are pregnant, then it is best to avoid alcohol.

“This advice is not about policing pregnant women’s behaviour, it is about giving them unbiased information and enabling them to make the choice that is right for them.

“Cumulative and regular alcohol consumption in pregnancy could have an impact on the health and well-being of mother and baby.

“If pregnant women have concerns about their level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy, it is important that midwives support them by answering questions in a non-judgemental way and based on the evidence.”

For further information on drinking alcohol during pregnancy, visit NHS Choices.