We all know the
dangers of binge drinking and the problems regular over consumption of
alcohol can cause, but what about the impact drink has on expectant mothers?
Knocking back the pints during pregnancy has always been frowned upon yet
current government guidelines for Britain and the North advise mums-to-be to
stick to one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week if they can’t give
Now new research conducted by the BBC shows their advice could prove
misleading, with experts warning that Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
(FASD) could be linked to even the occasional glass of wine.
The devastating condition can cause learning difficulties, speech impediments,
behavioural problems and poor co-ordination in sufferers.
Government insiders are so worried by the latest statistics, which show that
a baby is 20 times more likely to be damaged by alcohol than to be born with
Down’s Syndrome, they have ordered a review into their alcohol guidelines for
Campaigners have welcomed the move and say they are hopeful new advice
measures will soon be on the cards.
“The only guaranteed safe message is, if you can avoid it (alcohol), then
don’t drink,” says Dr Raja Mukherjee, a specialist in FASD at St George’s
Hospital in London.
“Anything you drink in pregnancy can be harmful to your baby because alcohol
goes right across the placenta and directly to the foetus,” explainsMichelle
Savage, co-ordinator of support group FAS Ireland.
“In the South, there is no specific policy regarding alcohol and pregnancy
but we would definitely advise mums-to-be to stay away from drink.”
The results of the British government’s review won’t be known until next year
but a total ban on alcohol during pregnancy could be on the cards.
Expectant mums in America and Canada are already advised not to drink before
giving birth, amid fears alcohol could harm their unborn babies.
Now, with new licensing laws in the North expected to give bars the potential
to allow 24-hour drinking, calls for similar recommendations to be introduced
here are growing.
“One or two units is ambiguous. People don't drink one to two units; they
drink more,” says Dr Mukherjee.
“How quickly can you drink one to two units? Is it safe for everybody - big
or small, different sizes of people, who we know metabolise alcohol in
“Is it safe to say that, for every single person out there, every single
person that is pregnant, that they can drink that level?”
The impact of drinking during pregnancy can be dehabilitating for anyone
swept up in its wake.
Although widely underreported, the World Health Organisation estimates that
between 4,700 and 8,800 babies may have been born with some form of the condition
last year in Britain and the North last year.
FAS Ireland believes around one per cent of children born in the South suffer
from some aspect of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders - with an estimated
62,000 babies born last year, that’s a huge 620 children suffering the
ill-effects of alcohol from an early age.
It is thought that exposure to too much alcohol can damage the front of the
foetus’ developing brain, causing a lack of emotional control, poor judgement
and an inability to control sexual impulses.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is perhaps the most publicised form of FASD
with American experts claiming one in 1,000 babies in the United States are
born with the disorder.
In many cases, sufferers show telltale signs of their brush with drink,
demonstrating physical characteristics such as narrow eyes, a flattened
philitrum (the space below the nose) and a thin top lip.
Furthermore, FAS Ireland claims that 90 per cent of children with FAS suffer
from mental health problems while 60 per cent become caught up in violence or
end up in prison or other institutions.
Figures suggest there were 150 cases of FAS in Britain last year, out of
approximately 675,000 births, but the World Health Organisation estimates
that there were actually between 470 and 880.
And, after a 2002 Department of Health survey found that 61 per cent of women
drink during pregnancy, fears that growing that that figure could rise
“There is a belief that smoking when you’re pregnant is much more damaging
than drinking, when, in reality, they’re both as bad as each other,” says
Savage from FAS Ireland.
“We still hear people saying ‘one or two won’t do you any harm’ when the
truth is it can do lots of harm to your baby.
“If you have a vodka, it goes straight to your child as well and continuous
drinking over time will affect their brain and central nervous system,
leading to problems in later life”.
Because many conditions which fall under the umbrella term FASD involve
emotional and communication difficulties, they can often be confused with
other disorders like autism and dyspraxia.
This leads to a lack of diagnoses and, in turn, difficulty accumulating
statistics into how big a problem alcohol-related illnesses really are.
“The problem with FASD, apart from a lack of public awareness, is that it
isn’t picked up until much later on in life,” says Savage.
“That means people are getting labelled as having other conditions when they
really have FASD.
“What we need to do is raise awareness of drinking during pregnancy and
educate doctors and psychiatrist so they are able to spot the danger signs
before it is too late”.
information on FAS Ireland, check out their website at www.fasireland.org.