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Curtin, Margaret (2014) AAI leaflet on alcohol and pregnancy. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 50, Summer 2014 , p. 24.

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In March 2014 Alcohol Action Ireland produced an information leaflet in conjunction with the country’s three largest maternity hospitals, the National Maternity Hospital, the Rotunda Hospital and the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital. Alcohol and Pregnancy1 warns of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and advises that the optimal approach for pregnant women is to abstain completely from alcohol consumption. 

Exposure to alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of impairment of the physical and mental development of the unborn child. Alcohol passes through the placenta from the mother’s bloodstream to that of the child. An adult liver can break down a unit of alcohol in one hour. However, the underdeveloped liver of the unborn child does not have this capacity. 

The effects of alcohol on the unborn child are manifold and may be expressed through a variety of mental and physical development issues with life-long consequences. In particular, the impact of alcohol can manifest in the form of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). 

FAS is caused by a high level of exposure to alcohol throughout pregnancy and results in growth retardation, facial defects and pronounced learning and behavioural difficulties. FASD refers to a spectrum of less pronounced but more common difficulties resulting from exposure to alcohol in the womb. Despite appearing healthy, children with FASD can experience a range of issues such as sight and hearing impairment, as well as social, cognitive and learning difficulties. 

Women who drink heavily during pregnancy are also at increased risk of complications, in particular, miscarriage, premature delivery and stillbirth.

The risk of impairment to the unborn child increases with the level of alcohol consumed. However, the exact level at which alcohol consumption becomes harmful is not known. As a result, women can receive conflicting advice. This leaflet advocates that since alcohol is a known toxic substance without a clearly defined level of safe consumption, it is best for pregnant women to abstain completely once they know that they are pregnant or are trying to conceive. 

Pregnant women who are concerned about their alcohol consumption are advised to consult their health professional. They are encouraged to maintain a good support network during pregnancy, to ask their partner to also reduce their drinking, and to stay active. Meeting friends in a cafe rather than a bar, choosing fruit juices or non-alcoholic drinks, as well as eating healthily and not smoking or consuming harmful drugs, are also advocated. 

1. Alcohol Action Ireland (2014) Alcohol and pregnancy.  Dublin: AAI.  www.drugsandalcohol.ie/21647

Item Type
Article
Issue Title
Date
2014
Page Range
p. 24
Publisher
Health Research Board
Volume
Issue 50, Summer 2014
EndNote
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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