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No Alcohol During Pregnancy Says ALAC

No Alcohol During Pregnancy Says ALAC

The Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) says it is horrified but not surprised at new research showing Australian women fail to recognise the dangers of drinking while pregnant.

“This is a world wide problem; it is a problem here in New Zealand, and all women need to be given a sharp warning and a clear and consistent message that they should not drink during pregnancy,” says ALAC Deputy Chief Executive Officer Sandra Kirby.

“Drinking alcohol during pregnancy exposes the unborn child to the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) which can result in a variety of disorders ranging from central nervous problems, low birth weight, abnormal facial features, mental retardation and behavioural and learning problems throughout their life. Many people don’t even understand what FASD is.

"There's only one advice. Don’t drink while pregnant or if you are intending to become pregnant.”

Ms Kirby says the prevalence of FASD in New Zealand was unknown. International figures suggest about two to three babies in every 1000 have FASD. Three to four times as many are estimated to suffer partial effects. This can be compared to Cystic Fibrosis at one per 3,000 live births, Downs Syndrome at one per 1000 and Cerebral Palsy at one-2.6 per thousand. These estimates are conservative but, in the absence of New Zealand data, it is difficult to be more specific. The potential impact of FASD on New Zealand’s population and its services is disturbing.

“We are currently undertaking research with the Ministry of Health to assess the awareness of New Zealand women of child bearing age on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The research should be completed early next year. We suspect many are not aware of the problems associated with drinking alcohol during pregnancy and this research will give a much clearer picture of the prevalence of consumption during pregnancy over the last five years and therefore the likely incidence of FASD.”

Ms Kirby says the message against drinking and driving was one people were willing to promote but there was a reluctance among some doctors to advise women against drinking any alcohol during pregnancy.

ALAC is also managing an application for the labeling of alcohol beverages with a health advisory notice advising of the dangers of drinking while pregnant.

“However, labels on their own will achieve nothing. A hard message must come from the medical profession on the dangers of drinking while pregnant.”

Next Friday 9 September is International FASD awareness day and ALAC is supporting community-based initiatives to raise awareness of the issue.

The Australian research carried out by the Salvation Army found more than three million women were not convinced it was necessary to stop drinking while pregnant and that one million said they strongly disagreed that drinking during pregnancy was dangerous.

It also found 1.2 million Australian women aged between 25 and 49 drink or have drunk alcohol during pregnancy, with those aged between 25 and 34 more likely to drink than other expectant mothers.

A 1999 New Zealand survey has found that over 80 percent of pregnant teenagers and nearly 40 percent of expectant adults expose their unborn children to the risk of permanent brain damage by drinking.

Researchers from Massey University, who interviewed nearly 500 midwives, found that many women were getting conflicting advice from their doctors about the dangers of drinking while pregnant and did not understand why it was unsafe.

The survey, which took in 14,100 of the 56,550 births in 1999, found that 82 percent of teenage mothers and 36 percent of adult women had at least one drink while pregnant, even when they knew it was dangerous.

About 10 percent of the women involved drank at the levels that put their babies at fairly high risk of developing behavioural problems, concentration difficulties and retardation and flattened facial features.

Nearly five percent drank more than one glass of alcohol a day and four percent were classed as binge or heavy drinkers.


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