Friday, 22 October 2010

Too much alcohol and pregnancy don't mix

I have just read in my paper that a neonatologist from our local hospital is applying for a government grant to research the impact of drinking during pregnancy on unborn babies. Those involved in infant and child health are reporting an increased incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Government statistics state that over 24% of the population now drink well in excess of the recommended units of alcohol per week. When I qualified as a midwife in the early 1980’s I had never heard of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; it was something only a paediatrician would come across, and rarely, but today I suspect every paediatrician in the country can cite cases of it.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most common cause of abnormalities in babies and children, it produces a multitude of symptoms and signs from facial abnormalities, organ defects, growth retardation, mental and intellectual disability and behavioural problems to name but a few-It is 100% preventable.
Coming from both a television media and midwifery background I can see both cause and effect; I remember from the late 1990’s onwards, broadcasters revelled in programmes which explored the salacious lives of holiday reps and holiday makers, highlighting the antics of those who had drunk too much and seeing this as entertaining television. These types of programmes continue to be made because they are cheap. The problem with this type of programming is that it gives young and impressionable people the idea that they can only have a good time if they get drunk and disorderly, that this is the norm and it is expected of them on a Friday and Saturday night. If they can’t remember what happened the next day, even better. For women and their partners planning a pregnancy this activity is hard to stop and they continue into their pregnancies.
The cost of all this drunken activity is to be seen in our A&E, maternity, neonatal and paediatric wards, with adults suffering from the effects of too much alcohol, infants showing signs of withdrawal from alcohol, and young children developing signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The answer is that anyone planning to make a baby should cut right down on their alcohol intake- and that includes their partners too, as alcohol affects sperm quality. Once you know you are pregnant the best advice is to cut out alcohol completely- different paediatricians and neonatologists have different views on this, so the safest option is complete abstinence, fortunately for many women they find they go off alcohol anyway. The most important period for abstinence is in the first three months when the fetus is developing rapidly.
So, in the light of the recent government spending review, I do hope that this neonatologist gets his funding, as we are in the middle of an epidemic of alcohol related problems

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