Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
A new Australian study has revealed an alarming trend showing one in three pregnant or breastfeeding woman are still drinking alcohol. The Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation (AERF) feel that in spite of warnings to pregnant women to cut out alcohol completely from their diets, many women are ignoring such warnings.
Alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a condition in the baby called foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) that is associated with stunted growth, physical abnormalities and brain damage. Although there are no concrete reports of how many babies in Australia have FAS, in Canada one in 100 babies develop FAS. This condition is one of the few preventable causes of non-genetic mental retardation or intellectual disability. The lack of figures for Australia is probably due to lack of diagnostic centres says the AERF.
The AERF conducted a survey called ‘Galaxy Research’ involving 1,014 respondents. When asked about whether alcohol should be permitted for pregnant women 90 percent feel it should be avoided. But although nearly all show adequate awareness regarding deleterious effects of alcohol during pregnancy on the unborn child, 30 percent admitted to drinking alcohol during their pregnancy or when they are nursing their newborns. 10 percent of Australians said drinking alcohol in moderation during pregnancy cannot hurt the baby or the mother.
The AERF clarifies to the public in general that there are no safe levels of alcohol for the pregnant woman. Deputy chair Scott Wilson says, “The whole issue about foetal alcohol syndrome is it's 100 per cent preventable - don't consume alcohol while pregnant…If you chose to have one or two while you're pregnant, you are, to a certain extent, playing Russian roulette.”
Prof Paul Haber, an addiction expert and the lead author of the national guidelines on pregnancy and alcohol consumption echoed these thoughts. “Limitations on the available evidence make it impossible to set a safe or no-risk drinking level for women…However, women who have consumed alcohol during pregnancy can be reassured that the risk to their unborn child is likely to be low if they've consumed alcohol at low-risk levels…That is, less than seven standard drinks a week and no more than two standard drinks on any one day,” he explained.
Mr. Wilson feels labels on alcoholic beverages should discourage pregnant and nursing women from drinking. It is an irony he says, “Australian alcohol products sold in US, Canada and Europe have a warning label put on them here in Australia before they're exported saying not to drink whilst pregnant…But for some reason that same information isn't put on labels for consumption here in Australia.”