Drinking while pregnant isn’t worth the risk, says Christine Rogan

‘‘At the moment we are catching them at the bottom of the cliff and we want to get them at the top,’’

31 Mar 2015

The Nelson Mail
[New Zealand]
Alcohol risks outlined to mums
Drinking while pregnant isn’t worth the risk, says Alcohol Healthwatch health promoter Christine Rogan.

Experts in foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and the risks associated with consuming alcohol during pregnancy were the keynote speakers at the first interagency workshop of its kind in Nelson.

The issue has been highlighted recently after it was reported that a pregnant woman in Auckland was declined a glass of wine by bar staff earlier this month.

Rogan said Ministry of Health advice was that there was no known safe amount of alcohol in pregnancy and no known safe time during which it could be consumed.

She said there was no protection in the womb from alcohol and the only way to ensure a child was completely safe was to abstain from consuming alcohol.

It wasn’t a social issue and it wasn’t about passing judgment, she said. ‘‘This is about understanding the biology that goes on,’’ said Rogan.

‘‘It is a fact that alcohol can damage an unborn baby and our organisation wants to make sure women are fully informed before they make decisions.’

’She said moderate to high levels of alcohol could lead to FASD, which was the top spectrum of brain damage that included severe behaviour and learning difficulties, but they had no idea where the harm started.

Neuropsychologist for the FASD Centre in Auckland and keynote speaker Valerie McGinn said: ‘‘We can’t say that one drink will cause FASD.’’

But she questioned why one would want to take risks when there were strong links to the devastating condition that would affect a child for life.

She said recent poll results that showed almost 50 per cent of women weren’t aware of the risks associated with drinking during pregnancy were concerning.

‘‘We didn’t know it was that bad.’’

She said it was important that blame wasn’t placed on woman as alcohol was a legal substance, sold between the bread and milk in supermarkets, but the awareness wasn’t there.

‘‘People know it isn’t good but they don’t know why,’’ she said.

Between 1 and 4 per cent of the population was thought to have the disorder and it was a disability that wasn’t being treated properly, said McGinn.

Lots of the behaviours that look like bad behaviour are in fact brain damage behaviours, she said.

The workshop marked the first stage of developing services as a community to deal with educating, diagnosing and assisting those with the disorder.

‘‘At the moment we are catching them at the bottom of the cliff and we want to get them at the top,’’ she said.

About 100 people from different groups attended the first multiagency workshop organised by the Nelson Bays Resource Teachers Learning and Behaviour service (NBRTLB).

They included employees from the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, Child Youth and Family, mental health professionals and those in the education sector. NBRTLB manager Lyn Evans said the service’s role encompassed early intervention and recognition of the issues around FASD, using an interagency approach.

The aim of the workshop was to educate people by providing an introduction to the disorder with the latest research from the specialists and a focus on how to support children with FASD in the classroom, she said.

Evans said it was small beginnings and they hoped it would develop into a network of people who had the ability to help those affected by FASD.