The 80 per cent of pregnant women who consume alcohol are in a ''no-person's land'' when making decisions about drinking, according to research to be published today.Prior to 2001, Australian health guidelines recommended that pregnant women abstain from alcohol.
In 2001, the guidelines were changed to recommend avoidance of a high maternal blood-alcohol level. Last year the National Health and Medical Medical Research Council changed its advice to say that women who were pregnant, planing a pregnancy or breastfeeding should not drink alcohol at all.
The change reflected a lack of scientific knowledge about possible safe levels of alcohol exposure for unborn and breastfed babies. Research published in the Medical Journal of Australia found 80 per cent of pregnant women aged 22-33 years consumed alcohol during pregnancy prior to the policy change in 2001.
The result was about the same for women who were pregnant after the 2001 policy change.
Study co-author Jennifer Powers, a statistician at the University of Newcastle, said high levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy could cause foetal alcohol syndrome which resulted in stunted growth and intellectual disability.
But it was not clear what impact low or moderate alcohol consumption could have on an unborn baby.
Ms Powers said many pregnant women and some of their health-care providers seemed unsure about how much, if any, alcohol it was safe to consume.
''But if you want to take any risk don't drink at all and you should certainly avoid high levels of alcohol consumption.''