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Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson calls for government to stop giving mixed messages over risks of drinking during pregnancy

Bill Esterson

Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson appealed to the government this week to "clear up the confusion in the advice given to pregnant women"  about drinking during pregnancy in order to reduce the number of children who are born each year with irreversible brain damage.

Quizzing under-secretary of state for health, Jane Ellison, Bill Esterson said the message to women was confusing as the advice was conflicting.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Bill said: "I remind Members that 7,000 children are damaged every year from irreversible brain damage as a result of alcohol consumed by their mothers during pregnancy.
"I urge the Minister please to clear up the confusion in the advice available to pregnant women at the moment, which on the one hand says, 'Do not drink at all'; and on the other hand says, 'If you do drink, have only one or two units'."
Bill Esterson has been campaigning for clearer guidance for mums-to-be in order to reduce the number of children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
He has gained the backing of MPs from across the political divide forming an All Party Parliamentary Group with the aim of conducting a full review of the law's current protection of unborn children from the damaging effects of alcohol.
Bill said: "The expert advice is clear. Women who are pregnant, or who are trying to conceive, should not consume alcohol at all. But the government's own advice is far from clear cut.
"People are confused by the message the government is giving on this. I just want to see the message made perfectly clear. Do not drink when pregnant or when trying to conceive.
"Britain is lagging behind on this issue. In places like Canada and France, that is the message their governments are putting out and they also have compulsory warning signs on all bottles and cans of alcohol clearly warning of the dangers to unborn children.
"That is what I want to see here."
Bill was made aware of the devastating effects of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) when his wife Caroline attended a meeting on the subject as part of her role on Sefton Adoption Panel.
Researching the subject, Bill found that babies born with FASD can suffer from learning difficulties and suffer from attention deficits, memory issues, hyperactivity and poor problem-solving skills. They can also suffer birth defects, including smaller head circumference, heart problems, limb damage, kidney damage, damage to the structure of the brain, eye problems, hearing problems and specific facial characteristics.
Bill said: "At the severe end of the spectrum, there are 7,000 live births of children with more severe Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) each year, with three or four times as many babies being born with more moderate damage but still suffering from FASD in the UK.
"There is however, suggestion of under diagnosis as symptoms are similar to those resulting from conditions such as ADHD or ASD. Across Europe and North America, estimates suggest that at least one in 100 children suffer from the effects of drinking during pregnancy and some experts say the true figure may be as high as three or four in every 100.
"Something needs to be done to help prevent this.
"There are simple steps that we as a country can take to make sure that this issue is tackled. Basic steps which are already being taken in other countries, such as Canada and France where FASD is taken more seriously than it is here.
"The government needs to give concise 'no drinking while pregnant' advice. We need to introduce a programme of awareness, starting in schools. And we need compulsory health warning labels on alcoholic drinks as part of a wider campaign of awareness.
"Britain needs to catch up. We need to take Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder seriously. And we need to do everything we can to cut the often devastating effects that drinking alcohol when pregnant can have on an unborn baby's life for years to come."
Bill Esterson

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