Alcohol and Pregnancy – What’s the harm?

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This year’s International Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day falls on September 9th, where the Outer Hebrides Alcohol & Drug Partnership (OHADP) and NHS Western Isles will be spreading the word on how drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause harm to the unborn baby.

Alcohol is damaging to the baby’s cells and cell growth. When a pregnant woman drinks, the alcohol in her blood passes through the placenta into the developing baby’s blood.

As the foetus does not have a fully developed liver it cannot breakdown the alcohol. Instead, the alcohol circulates in the baby’s blood stream, destroying developing cells and damage to the nervous system of the foetus at any point during the nine months of pregnancy.

FASD describes a range of birth defects that can result in life-long damage. The effects of FASD on a child can include serious behavioural and social difficulties such as poor learning skills, hyperactivity, attention and memory problems. The physical effects include heart problems, limb or kidney damage, eye and hearing problems.

Women may not realise the affect that drinking whilst pregnant can have, so to be sure that your baby will not be born with any of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, the message is clear - avoid alcohol. No alcohol = no risk.

The Chief Medical Officer’s guideline for both men and women is that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, or breastfeeding, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

Take the time to think about spending the nine months of pregnancy free from alcohol and if you are worried about alcohol use during pregnancy do talk to your doctor or midwife.

There is no cure for FASD and the effects last a lifetime, but the good news is that FASD is preventable.

Research has shown that early intervention and appropriate treatment can improve a child’s development and help them towards a more independent life.

If you would like more information on how to reduce your alcohol intake in preparation for a pregnancy, visit the Scottish Government’s ‘Count14’ website which offers helpful information on reducing your drinking, as well as a useful drinks calculator to help monitor the amount of units you drink. Visit: www.count14.scot

NHS Inform also provides useful information on alcohol during pregnancy which can be accessed at: www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/alcohol