Pregnant women in Ireland often receive conflicting advice in relation to drinking alcohol, but there is no safe level of consumption during pregnancy, Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) has insisted.
The national charity for alcohol-related issues is urging pregnant women to avoid alcohol altogether during pregnancy.
"Damage to the unborn child from alcohol takes a number of forms and, as well as physical problems, can show up as behavioural, social, learning and attention difficulties in childhood, adolescence and throughout adulthood. As such, there can be lifelong consequences for the physical and mental health of an unborn child exposed to alcohol in the womb," commented AAI chief executive, Suzanne Costello.
She noted that women often receive conflicting advice about this issue, even from healthcare providers, and this is partly due to uncertainty regarding the amount of alcohol, and the timing of consumption, that is required to cause damage to the foetus.
"However, no quantity of alcohol has ever been proven to be safe to consume during pregnancy and no period of pregnancy has been shown to be immune to the effects of alcohol on the unborn child," she said.
She urged healthcare providers to deliver a message of ‘no alcohol, no risk' to pregnant women in their care.
Meanwhile, according to Michele Savage of FASD (foetal alcohol spectrum of disorders) Ireland, some children exposed to alcohol in the womb are left with irreversible and lifelong consequences, which could have been avoided if alcohol had not been consumed.
FASD is a term used to describe the range of permanent birth defects caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol, including intellectual difficuties, hyperactivity, memory problems and growth deficiencies. The rarest but most easily recognisiable form is foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which is related to children exposed to high levels of alcohol during pregnancy.
This can lead to growth problems, facial defects and lifelong behavioural and learning difficulties.
"Brain damage from prenatal alcohol exposure causes sensory integration issues, slow rates of cognitive processing, impairs a child's working memory and organisational skills, so they simply cannot fulfil their potential.
"It is important to remember that it is the brain damage from prenatal alcohol exposure that causes this and it has nothing to do with the efforts of a child, parent or teacher. Changes of school, suspensions and expulsions feature a lot in the lives of these children and their families, despite the best efforts of those concerned," Ms Savage commented.
She also pointed out that children with FASD do not mature and cope as well as their peers, which means they often struggle socially and are vulnerable to exploitation and bullying.
"Facing into adulthood is a huge cause for concern - a true battle between the rights and expected responsibilities of young people with very uneven capacities, most of whom will not get and keep a job, or ever be able to live a fully independent life," Ms Savage said.
There is currently no national register of FASD in Ireland, therefore the number of people affected here is unknown.
AAI and FASD Ireland made their comments to coincide wth Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day (September 9). For more information on AAI, click here. For more information on FASD Ireland, click here.
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