Drinks firm Diageo funds pregnancy health initiative
Drinks company Diageo is to pay for 10,000 midwives in England and Wales to be trained to offer advice on the dangers of alcohol during pregnancy.
The Department of Health hopes the training initiative will in turn help more than one million expectant mothers over three years.
It is part of government moves to bring the private sector into public health.
The British Medical Association has expressed concern about the drinks industry funding such a scheme.
Government guidance is for pregnant women to avoid drinking alcohol, but if they do to drink only one to two units, once or twice a week.
The Department of Health said the UK Infant Feeding Survey 2005 suggested that 34% of women gave up drinking while they were pregnant, 61% drank less and 4% did not change their drinking pattern.
Public Health Minister Anne Milton said: "Midwives are one of the most trusted sources of information and advice for pregnant women. This pledge is a great example of how business can work with NHS staff to provide women with valuable information.
"This will help over a million women over the next three years to make an informed decision about drinking during their pregnancy. It will potentially improve their health and also give their baby the best start in life."'Huge benefits'
The training programme will be run by the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK (Nofas-UK).
Susan Fleisher, from the charity, said the scheme would have have huge benefits.
"The thing that's so fantastic is that they're helping us with prevention, we can actually prevent children being born with foetal alcohol brain damage," she said.
"But it costs money, and thanks to Diageo we expect we will be educating in the next three years 10,000 midwives. Ultimately, if it all goes well, they will reach at least a million women."
But Vivienne Nathanson from British Medical Association said there were concerns over the scheme.
"They certainly have a conflict of interest because it's in the interest of the drinks industry for people to continue to drink and it's in the interest of health for people to drink much less, and certainly not to drink during pregnancy or to drink really minimally.
"I think the issue for us would be if money is given by the industry, it must be given to an honest broker, a third party."
GP Sarah Jarvis said: "I tend to say to my patients, look, if you have had one glass of wine before you were pregnant, I do not want you to beat yourself up about it, you are highly unlikely to have done any damage."
Diageo's involvement is part of the government's "responsibility deal", which involves working with big business, charities and the retail sector to help people lead healthier lives.'Important message'
The pregnancy initiative will build on training already delivered across five cities over the past two years.
Diageo describes itself as the world's leading premium drinks business and has a collection of brands including Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Guinness.
The company claims that highlighting the dangers of drinking alcohol "is hugely important, as it will potentially save many babies from being born with foetal defects".
Diageo spokeswoman Rebecca Perry said: "It's one of those things that we feel really passionate about. There isn't much money going into this area of alcohol and social responsibility, and we felt that Nofas-UK were spreading an important message.
"People are much more familiar with the guidance around drink driving or around alcohol and units and the damage that can do to your health.
"But around pregnancy, it's more of a sensitive issue and we really felt that we could help make a difference in this area."