WDHB GP highlights the dangers of drinking while pregnant

7 September 2015

Wednesday (9 September) marks Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day – a day Whanganui GP, and alcohol and health champion John McMenamin wants the Whanganui community to stop and think about.
Dr McMenamin says he can’t emphasise enough how important it is to highlight awareness of the long-term effects that drinking during pregnancy can have on a developing baby and the families who struggle to raise children with FASD.
“When a pregnant woman drinks, so does their baby. Alcohol in the mother’s blood is carried through the placenta to the baby where alcohol in the baby’s blood can reach levels as high as those in the mother,” Dr McMenamin says.
“Drinking alcohol during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and reduced birthweight.
“But tragically, depending on the pattern and timing of alcohol consumption, the child is also at risk of lifelong mental, physical, behavioural and learning disabilities that not only have an enormous impact on the child’s quality of life but also on their family and everyone who is part of their life.”
Dr McMenamin says the advice that he, the Ministry of Health and other health sector agencies give to women is: Stop drinking if you think you could be pregnant, are pregnant or you are trying to get pregnant. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
“The smallest amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy can affect your baby’s development. It doesn’t matter whether it is beer, cider, wine, spirits or ready-to-drinks (RTDs) – they all contain alcohol.
“We do understand that some women consume alcohol without realising they are pregnant. In these circumstances, the important message is: Stop drinking alcohol as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed.” 

Additional information
Can FASD be cured or will it go away as the child gets older?
No. The effects of foetal alcohol exposure are permanent. Alcohol during pregnancy causes changes to occur in the underlying cell structures of the brain and other organs that affect an individual’s ability to function normally.

The effects of foetal alcohol exposure are often not obvious at birth. Some children affected by fetal alcohol exposure may be identified by abnormal facial features, poor growth and abnormalities of the brain and its functions. Some children with a FASD may not look different to other children but will experience significant difficulties with behaviour, learning and development caused by damage to the brain from alcohol.

How many people in New Zealand have FASD?
Not all babies exposed to alcohol before birth will have FASD. International statistics suggest that 1 percent to 5 percent of live births each year will be FASD affected. In New Zealand it is estimated that between 600 and 3000 babies are born every year with FASD.

How can FASD be prevented?
FASD can be prevented by not drinking any alcohol if you are pregnant.
If drinking in the early stages of pregnancy has occurred, then stopping drinking immediately will reduce the possibility of FASD. If you are finding it difficult to stop drinking talk to your midwife, doctor, another health professional or contact the Alcohol Drug Helpline (call 0800 787 797, visit their website, or free txt adh to 234).