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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C

Doctor: People end up in foster care and jail because of drinking during pregnancy

Some 40,000 people are living with foetal alcohol syndrome in Ireland.

DELEGATES AT THE Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) AGM have been told doctors need to “educate and empower” women to abstain from drinking alcohol throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Speaking at the conference, Dr Mary O’Mahony, a specialist in public health medicine at the HSE, noted that prenatal exposure to alcohol can have “catastrophic consequences”.

It is estimated that 600 babies are born with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in Ireland each year, with some 40,000 people living with the condition in this country.

O’Mahony said foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) has a huge societal impact and many children are misdiagnosed, noting: “Children with FASD fill our foster care places, adults with FAS fill our jails and many people are misdiagnosed.

“Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a permanent disability called foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FSAD). The consequences are induced brain damage which is permanent and is associated with physical, mental, educational, social and behavioural difficulties.

“At one end of the spectrum, FAS may have visible signs of abnormalities and be recognised at birth. FASD is not recognisable until preschool or school age when difficulties manifest,” O’Mahony said.

It’s the social norm to drink in Ireland, including to drink during pregnancy.

She noted that research shows one in 67 women who consume alcohol while pregnant give birth to a baby with FAS, saying she believes everyone in Ireland knows someone affected by it.

Need for better education 

In research published in Lancet Global Health in January, Ireland was one of the five countries – alongside South Africa, Croatia, Italy and Belarus – with the highest prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy and consequent cases of FAS.

O’Mahony said FAS can manifest itself in many ways, including through attention deficit disorders, difficulties with maths, poor problem solving skills, confused social skills and lower IQ.

“We need to support women, clear consistent advice is needed to abstain from alcohol throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. Most people know that drinking alcohol while pregnant can harm the baby, but lots of women still have questions about drinking during pregnancy,” O’Mahany said.

A motion calling for the IMO to encourage doctors to educate and empower women to abstain from alcohol throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding was passed at the AGM.

Keep up to date with the latest news from the AGM by following @orlaryan on Twitter.

Read: Ireland has the worst rates in the world for drinking during pregnancy

Read: Should drink drivers get an automatic ban? Doctors will be debating that today

Read: Ex-hospital master to Simon Harris: ‘Ask nuns about their plans for €300m hospital’

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