Public Health England: Drinking in Pregnancy Communication Consultation

The background:

With high rates of drinking in pregnancy amongst the lower demographics, Public Health England (PHE) wanted to:

  • gain an understanding from health care professionals (HCPs) about the validity of existing support tools and about the Department of Health (DH) messaging around safe drinking levels
  • sensitively explore target audience attitudes to use of alcohol and the recommended guidelines during pregnancy
  • establish what are the channels and go-to sources of information

Our role was to undertake HCP consultation, gather insight from audience research and deliver strategic recommendations about how to frame the alcohol message, channels and who should deliver it.

Our approach:

We were keen to ensure that we got good representation of stakeholders at grassroots level as well as citizens. We used our Community Navigator process to get to the people we wanted to talk to, within community centre settings, to get an honest rather than predictable perspective. We learned that a critical barrier had been ambiguous messages from DH that prevented HCPs from giving the advice not to drink at all. We also found that girls were reliant on their own family networks and experiences in making their choices. This was reinforced by mothers and grandmothers who reinforced the fact that ‘they drank and were OK so there’s no harm done’.

Our strategic recommendations:

  • A simple change to DH messaging to state that all drinking in pregnancy is harmful. Thus giving HCPs the armoury they need to talk to those women in their care.
  • Future campaigning would be best focussed not only on the pregnant mum, but on her maternal family too, positioned as myth busting.


Following our work, from 08 Jan 2016 the Chief Medical Officers’ guideline on alcohol and pregnancy changed to:

  • If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum
  • Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk

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