Alcohol consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding
Our 2012 Annual Alcohol Poll found that fewer than half (47%) of all Australians are aware of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and related disorders. When asked if alcohol consumption is harmful during pregnancy, the majority of Australians (70%) indicated that drinking alcohol while pregnant can be harmful to the developing fetus, with 67% believing that a woman should consume no alcohol at all when pregnant.
When asked about the harms of consuming alcohol while breastfeeding, a majority of Australians (73%) believe that this is harmful to the baby. However 20% believe it is okay in moderation, and 7% are unsure.
The poll again asked women who had been pregnant or had breastfed a baby to indicate whether a health professional had discussed alcohol consumption during pregnancy with them. Just over a third of women (37%) who had been pregnant or breastfed a baby could remember a health professional discussing harms of alcohol consumption with them during this time. This represents a decline from 2011, where the corresponding figure was 42%.
Why is this important?
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can result in life-long physical and intellectual disabilities that are collectively described by the term, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). These disorders include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), partial FAS, Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects1.
People born with FASD experience poor memory; impaired language and communication skills as well as mental, social and emotion delays 2; the underlying brain damage can also lead to mental health problems, alcohol and other drug issues, disrupted school experience and problems with employment and the law in adulthood. People with FASD also suffer physical effects from prenatal exposure to alcohol including organ damage and sight and hearing problems. For these reasons the National Health and Medical Research Council Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol recommends no alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Despite the 30 years of research demonstrating the harms of alcohol consumption during pregnancy there has been no concerted and comprehensive effort by the Commonwealth Government to raise awareness of these. This is reflected by the poll results which show that some people still believe that pregnant women can consume alcohol in moderation during pregnancy.
What can to improve awareness of the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy and prevent future cases of FASD?
Currently in Australia the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social and Legal Affairs is undertaking an inquiry into FASD. This inquiry presents an opportunity for the Government to commit to a long-term strategy to prevent new cases of FASD and provide support to individuals, families and carers who are affected by the condition.
A comprehensive five-year National FASD Action Plan is now needed by the Government to ensure that work is coordinated, completed and implemented across Australia. The Action Plan should include measures that aim to prevent new cases of FASD and better support people with FASD to manage their condition. These measures should include a comprehensive public education campaign, mandatory pregnancy warning labels, the completion and piloting of a national standardised diagnostic tool and funding for FASD diagnostic services.
Awareness of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Awareness of harms drinking when pregnant and breastfeeding
1 Nguyen, T. Coppens, J and Riley, E. (2011). ‘Prenatal alcohol exposure, FAS and FASD: An introduction.’ In E.P Rilley, S Clarren, J Weinberg and E Jonsson (Eds). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Management and Policy perspectives of FASD (pp 1-13). Weinheim, Wiley-VCH Verlay GmbH & Co. KGaA