Derry-based Drink Think Project, which aims to encourage expectant mothers not to drink alcohol while pregnant, took their message to Parliament Buildings in Belfast yesterday on global Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day. The group led a briefing session with MLAs from all parties, including Health Committee Chair Maeve McLaughlin, on the work of the project and the wider dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant.
With evidence suggesting that around 60% of expectant mothers in Northern Ireland consume alcohol, the group outlined the impact drinking can have on expectant mothers and their children. Babies whose mothers drink while pregnant can suffer from a range of illnesses which fall under Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This can include Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, on the most serious end of the spectrum which can result in growth deficiency, craniofacial abnormalities and neurological damage. People born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome can suffer from social limitations in life including problems with relationship-building, concentration and learning difficulties.
“Alcohol is so embedded in our society that expectant mothers sometimes assume that consuming one or two glasses while pregnant is acceptable. The fact is that the only way you can be sure that your child will not be affected by Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is by not drinking while pregnant. Our message to MLAs in Parliament Buildings today is that public representatives and health authorities have a duty to ensure that there is no ambivalence on the issue,” said Project Director Joanne Smith.
Current medical advice to expectant mothers is that they should avoid alcohol but if they do drink to do so in moderation. “This ambivalent message reflects society’s laid-back attitude and confuses the issue for mothers. The simple fact is if you don’t drink there is no risk of your child being affected” added Joanne.
The event followed an outreach day Foyleside Shopping Centre on Friday where project members provided information on the issue to members of the public. Those requiring further information on the subject can contact the Drink Think Project on 02871 363925.