September 11, 2008

Message Not Getting Through; Some Taranaki Mums Drink During Pregnancy


PREGNANT Taranaki women are ignoring the toxic effects of drinking alcohol -- and some medical advisers are condoning their actions.

The results of new Taranaki research mirror those of a similar Otago study, which found as many as a third who were drinkers before getting pregnant were continuing to drink.

As such, they were putting their babies at real risk of irreversible neurological disorders caused by alcohol.

"I find that quite shocking," lead researcher, Taranaki District Health Board paediatrician Raimond Jacquemard said.

He and co-researcher, paediatric registrar Reena Ho, point the finger at New Zealand's permissive boozing culture, saying health warnings are being ignored.

While the majority of the Taranaki mothers surveyed said they either stopped or cut down their drinking once pregnant, 28% continued to drink throughout pregnancy.

A total of 7% did not change their habits at all, while 4% continued to drink to dangerous levels and 9% reported binge drinking.

The two doctors say the message to pregnant women cannot be any clearer: no amount of alcohol is safe throughout pregnancy. However, developing foetuses are most at risk during the first three months.

"Compared with other recreational drugs, alcohol is by far the most toxic to babies," Dr Jacquemard said.

"Alcohol is the only one that gives a recognisable syndrome in babies. With other drugs there is no such pattern."

The effects could range from fullblown foetal alcohol syndrome, which was seen in the face, through to mild defects in neurological processing, such as poor memory and ADHD, he said.

"From the results, we can say that in New Zealand there is a real risk of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder," Dr Ho said. While the information had been available for many years, women were ignoring the message.

"Nothing has changed. We are losing the battle."

It was also of major concern that some doctors and other health professionals were continuing to tell pregnant women a couple of drinks would not do any harm, she said.

"Some healthcare workers say a little is OK, a drink a day doesn't matter, but that is the wrong message. We are failing our children."

The doctors had surveyed almost all new Taranaki mothers (104) over a two- month period in 2006 a day after they gave birth. The anonymous survey asked the mothers how much alcohol they drank before they were pregnant, how much they drank during their pregnancy, and at which stage of their pregnancy they either stopped drinking or cut down.

Many had only stopped after they found out they were pregnant, leading to hazardous drinking during unplanned pregnancies. The researchers advise that anyone who has concerns should contact their GP.

* Child health provider Manaaki Oranga Ltd maternal alcohol and drug nurse Deeanna Ritai said yesterday the group headed a successful awareness event at Puke Ariki attended by about 60 families.

The launch of the international awareness day, at 9.09am on the ninth day of the ninth month 2009, was celebrated first in New Zealand and successively throughout the world. DRINK PROBLEMS

Effects of foetal alcohol syndrome

* Face flattened and eyes wide apart.

* Heart and kidney defects.

* Hearing and sight impairment.

* Moderate to severe intellectual impairment.

* Lesser effects: trouble learning, controlling impulses, thinking abstractly, paying attention, remembering and making good judgments.

* MOH recommendation: Total abstinence from alcohol by pregnant women or those planning pregnancy or at risk of becoming pregnant, and those who are breastfeeding.


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