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Be Alcohol Aware - A Perspective - Alcohol, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

As part of our Be Alcohol Aware campaign to mark NI Alcohol Awareness Week 2018, ASCERT colleague, Pamela Quiery, SEDACT Connections Project Worker, shares a perspective on alcohol, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“Some of the questions I often get asked when I’m working in the community is how much alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy and is the occasional glass of wine acceptable when breastfeeding.

“There are many views on how safe it is to drink alcohol during pregnancy. The official advice has changed over the years as our understanding of alcohol’s effect on the human body improves. In this article I hope to give you the most up to date information so you can decide what is right for you, only you can make that choice.

“There is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. For this reason, the Chief Medical Officer advises that if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk. Not drinking alcohol during pregnancy or when planning pregnancy is the safest option.

“When a pregnant person drinks alcohol, the alcohol in their blood passes through the placenta to the baby. If the baby is exposed to too much alcohol their development can be seriously affected at any point during the 9 months of pregnancy. Drinking alcohol, particularly in the first 3 months of pregnancy, increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and low birthweight. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk.

“One of the possible consequences of drinking alcohol in pregnancy is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD. FASD is an umbrella term for lifelong alcohol related disorders and birth defects caused by alcohol exposure in the womb. The mother does not have to be drinking heavily for this to occur. The effects can be mild or severe, ranging from reduced intellectual ability, problems with attention, behaviour and emotional development, hyperactivity and facial abnormalities.

“Drinking heavily throughout pregnancy may lead to a serious condition called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS have learning and behavioural problems, poor growth and facial abnormalities. There is no cure for FAS or FASD, however, it is 100% preventable.

“It is important to remember that the decision to drink alcohol during pregnancy is yours to make. If you do choose to drink alcohol during pregnancy you can reduce the risk to your baby by drinking no more than 1 or 2 units a week, drinking slowly and never getting drunk.

“If you choose to breastfeed, anything you eat or drink can find its way into your breast milk, and that includes alcohol. There is some evidence that regularly drinking more than two units of alcohol a day while breastfeeding may affect your baby's development. However, an occasional drink is unlikely to harm your breastfed baby. It is recommended that breastfeeding mothers have no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week.

“If you have difficulty cutting down on what you drink you can talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist. Confidential help and support is also available from local support services. Visit the NI DACTS website at: www.drugsandalcoholni.info to view the local service directories for your area.”

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