Mothers urged to quit alcohol entirely while pregnant as research reveals dangers to an unborn baby

Women are urged to quit drinking as soon as they start trying for a baby as alarming new research reveals dangers of alcohol to an unborn baby

  • Awareness campaign urges women to quit alcohol as soon as they try for a baby 
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD) can cause intellectual and physical disability
  • 1 in 13 women who drink alcohol while pregnant give birth to a child with FASD 
  • Every Moment Matters urges women to quit alcohol at any stage of pregnancy

Nevermind what your grandmother did, there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol during pregnancy or even conception, a new awareness campaign says.

When Sophie and her husband knew they wanted to try for a baby, she knew what precautions to take.

She stopped smoking a year before coming off contraception; started taking folate and pregnancy vitamin supplements; stopped eating pate and soft cheeses; made sure her salad was washed thoroughly; and cut down her alcohol intake with the intention of stopping entirely once she fell pregnant.

There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol during pregnancy or even conception, a new awareness campaign says

She asked a couple of health professionals if cutting down was enough and was told ‘one or two is not going to hurt’ while she was trying to conceive. And when she discovered she was pregnant at six weeks, she stopped drinking altogether.

What Sophie didn’t know – and what an alarming percentage of people don’t – is that even a small amount of alcohol exposure in utero can be extremely damaging to an unborn baby.

One in every 13 women who consume any alcohol during pregnancy will give birth to a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) – a lifelong disability which can cause cognitive, behavioural, health and learning challenges and physical deformities such as abnormal head size and facial features.

One in every 13 women who consume any alcohol during pregnancy will give birth to a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD)

One in every 13 women who consume any alcohol during pregnancy will give birth to a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD)

A Kantar Public study of nearly 1500 Australian women of child-bearing age has found 29 per cent are not aware drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause FASD and more than half were not aware that alcohol can do damage even in the first few weeks after conception.

The misinformation stems from a generational shift in medical advice – after all, it wasn’t that long ago that pregnant women were prescribed Guinness.

‘If you want to be given permission to have one or two drinks, you will be able to find those articles that tell you that you can,’ Sophie tells AAP.

‘We all know someone who’s had a drink when they’re pregnant who’s gone on to have a seemingly healthy baby. It’s a lottery.

‘We were very unfortunate, our son was very unfortunate.’

Sophie’s son was born full-term at four kilos and looked ‘physically perfect’. But he struggled with breastfeeding and sleeping and met most developmental milestones slightly late.

The 'Every Moment Matters' campaign will provide clear information to Australians about the risks of drinking alcohol at every stage of pregnancy

The ‘Every Moment Matters’ campaign will provide clear information to Australians about the risks of drinking alcohol at every stage of pregnancy

At school he played up and struggled to always keep up with the class, so Sophie had him assessed and a psychologist identified ‘severe impairment in several areas of learning and development’.

When Sophie read about the behavioural symptoms of FASD it was ‘like a lightening bolt,’ she says. She pushed for an assessment.

Ten areas of the brain can be impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure and to get a FASD diagnosis three of those areas must be severely impacted.

Her son had five.

‘What makes it really complicated is that if you see him everyday on the street, you wouldn’t have a clue,’ she says.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) has on Tuesday launched a new awareness campaign titled Every Moment Matters to help educate couples embarking on their journey into parenthood that ‘the moment you start trying is the moment to stop drinking’.

‘There is a lot of misinformation about alcohol and pregnancy, and it makes it hard for people to find the latest accurate information,’ FARE CEO Caterina Giorgi said in a statement.

‘The campaign will provide clear information to Australians about the risks of drinking alcohol at every stage of pregnancy.’

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