independent advocate reducing alcohol harm

Alcohol: pregnancy and FASD

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and no period of pregnancy has been shown to be immune to the effects of alcohol on the unborn child. 

Ireland is estimated to have the third highest prevalence of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and the more severe Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in the world.

According to expert Dr Mary O’Mahony, this means that an estimated 600 Irish babies are born each year with FAS, and more than 40,000 Irish people live with the condition.*

FASD is more common than FAS. For every case of FAS there are at least 10 cases of FASD. 

A comprehensive study, carried out in Ireland, Australia, the UK and New Zealand (2017), found that Ireland emerged as the country with the highest rates of drinking, both before (90%) and during (82%) pregnancy, and of binge drinking, before (59%) and during (45%) pregnancy.  

We also know that in Ireland: 

  • Four in five of first pregnancies are exposed to alcohol; nearly one in two (45%) are exposed at high-risk levels. 
  • Two in five pregnancies are unplanned, increasing the chance they will be exposed to alcohol. 
  • Pregnant women do not consistently receive timely maternity care or support for their Alcohol & Drug issues. 
  • Health professionals do not consistently provide information on the risks of drinking during pregnancy or routinely screen for alcohol issues. 
  • Most clinicians lack the capability to diagnose FASD. 
  • families of people with FASD struggle to access appropriate support and report a lack of understanding from services, professionals and even other family members 

Given this evidence, it is imperative that health and social care professionals who are in contact with mothers and prospective mothers ensure a clear and consistent message that there is no safe amount of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy. 

 

What needs to happen? 

Clearly more work is needed to ensure that women are provided with information and support during pregnancy. Screening and brief interventions must be carried out with pregnant women at the early stages of pregnant and the risks of drinking should be communicated in a clear and consistent fashion.  Families and children living with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders must also be recognised and supported. 

The Public Health Alcohol Act provides for the introduction of labelling of alcohol products. These new labels will include health warnings about the risks associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy. However, this legislation has not yet been implemented. 

We need your support to ensure this important provision is implemented.

Please visit our petition page on our website where you can select your public representatives for correspondence on this issue.

* Estimation of national, regional, and global prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy and fetal alcohol syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis (2017)

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(17)30021-9/fulltext


Advice:

  • If you have already drunk alcohol during your pregnancy, stop drinking alcohol for the rest of your pregnancy. The less your baby is exposed to alcohol over the course of the pregnancy, the greater their chance for healthy brain growth and development.
  • If you drink regularly and you find it hard to stop, ask for support and help. You may be reluctant to speak about your drinking to your GP, midwife or obstetrician. You can also call the HSE Alcohol and Drugs Helpline for free on 1800 459 459 and speak in confidence with a qualified professional about your drinking.

Download the HSE’s Ask About Alcohol Pregnancy leaflet here:

Find some more tips for an alcohol-free pregnancy here