Women urged to stay off alcohol during pregnancy 

ALCOHOL and pregnancy just don’t mix is the message to mark the International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day which takes place on Saturday, September 9.

Compelling evidence shows that no amount of alcohol is good for pregnant women if they want to give their babies the best possible start in life, according to Frances Burke, one of Mayo’s leading childbirth educators. 

“We have a much better knowledge now and understand much more about the damaging effects of alcohol on the developing child,” Frances said.  

She is a childbirth educator at Mayo University Hospital and has teamed up with the Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force (WRDATF)in highlighting this message to mark International FASD Awareness Day.
“In short, alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix.  In the past women may have had mixed messages about safe alcohol levels.  Women who may have had the odd drink when pregnant should not be worried.  However, the evidence is absolutely clear-cut now that alcohol is a no-go area for pregnant women if they want to give the best start to their new-borns.”

“Alcohol consumption can have a negative effect on the brain development of the baby growing in the womb. This occurs because we know now that alcohol crosses the placenta barrier.  This damage can later show up in the form of behavioural, social, learning and attention diffficulties in childhood, adolescence and throughout adulthood.”

While medical evidence points to a need to cut out alcohol completely in pregnancy, the majority of women in Ireland, continue to drink.  In a recent study, researchers concluded that alcohol use during pregnancy is highly prevalent and evidence shows that gestational alcohol exposure may occur in over 75% of pregnancies in Ireland. 

The number of pregnant women who drank heavily in the three studies was small, but the researchers point out that “since most women who consume alcohol do so at lower levels where the offspring growth and development effects are less well understood (than at higher levels), the widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern”. 

Pat Conway, Community Liaison Worker with the WRDATF said “Given the harmful drinking patterns in Ireland and the propensity to binge drink it is vitality important that we highlight the message that no ammout of alcohol during pregnancy is safe”.

The WRDATF have been very active on this topic and on September 26 will co-host a seminar titled Alcohol and Pregnancy - Exploring the issues before, during and after pregnancy. For more information on this seminar please visit www.wrdatf.ie for more details.

Representatives of Mayo University Hospital and the Western Region Drug and Alcohol Task Force (WRDATF) who have teamed up in highlighting this message to mark International FASD Awareness Day. Pictured are Gillian Conway (WRDATF & SWMDC), Cynthia Silva (senior psychologist HSE), Frances Burke (clinical midwife manager and antenatal education), Emmet Major (WRDATF), Sile Gill (assistant director of nursing & midwifery), Pat Conway (WRDATF & SWMDC) and Maura Mc Kenna (midwife, sonographer).