Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are now so prevalent they now outweigh the number of babies being born with muscular dystrophy and Down’s syndrome.
This was the message delivered at a conference held at the City Hotel aimed at educating people about the impact that alcohol can have on the family.
Victor Robinson, lecturer in nursing told the packed room that the effects of FSAD last a lifetime and are completely irreversible. “But,” he added. “It is 100% preventable.”
One of every 100 births now are known to be affected with an FASD.
However Dr Robinson said that one of the major issues is that, while drinking alcohol during pregnancy can harm a foetus, major damage can be done in the early stages of pregnancy when a woman may not even know she is pregnant.
He said that despite the concept of “safe levels” no actual safe level has ever been established.
“Even small amounts of alcohol can affect a foetus’ activity in the womb,” he said.
A local foster mother revealed how she now cares for a baby who was born six weeks early and was diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, one of the most sever forms of FASD.
“After the first year I noticed he couldn’t sit up, roll over or clap his hands,” she said.
“Every day is a challenge, he has sleep problems and can wake up three to four times a night. He has a lot of feeding issues and it took a long time to get him a bottle he could suck from.
“He would sometimes feel a sensory overload if we touched him. He is still underweight and doesn’t eat like a three year old. He can go 10-12 days without eating a bite.
“He is terrified of going outside, supermarkets in particular terrify him. He was so distressed that he would cry until he vomited.
“No day is the same, but we love him all the same.”
Dr. Anne Kilgallen, Deputy Chief medical Officer for Northern Ireland said: “We need to challenge our own and other people’s drinking behaviours at both an individual and a population-wide level.
“Today’s conference focuses on the impact alcohol misuse has across the life-course. Alcohol can impact a child even before birth. Alcohol misuse has a negative impact on people’s fertility and ability to conceive.
“And drinking during pregnancy is the cause of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is an entirely preventable condition and one where we can reduce risk.”