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Drinking During Pregnancy - The Dangers

9th September marks Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all.

The incidence of FASD in Northern Ireland - as well as internationally – is not accurately known, but is estimated to be one in every 100 births.

There used to be debate about the risks and impact that drinking alcohol might have on an unborn baby, but the Chief Medical Officers across the UK recently clarified their guidance. 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 in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, and the more you drink, the greater the risk. We also know that the damage exposure to alcohol before birth can cause to babies is irreversible. Put simply, FASD is 100% preventable - provided no alcohol is consumed during pregnancy.

What effect does alcohol have?

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the alcohol in her blood passes freely through the placenta into the developing baby’s blood. Because the baby does not have a fully-developed liver, it cannot filter out the toxins from the alcohol as an adult does. Instead, the alcohol circulates in the baby’s blood system and, in doing so, it can destroy brain cells and damage the baby’s developing nervous system at any point during the nine months of pregnancy.

The effects can be mild or severe, ranging from reduced intellectual ability and attention problems to heart problems and even death. Many children experience serious behavioural and social difficulties that last for their whole lifetime. Although alcohol can affect the development of cells, organs and systems, the brain and nervous system are particularly vulnerable.

What should you do?

If you need help to stop drinking, or have any concerns or questions about pregnancy and alcohol, contact your GP or midwife or visit www.drugsandalcoholni.info for information on local services.

(Information provided by the DACT Connections Service, funded by the Public Health Agency.)

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