UK Hospital the First in Country to Screen Pregnant Women For FASD

Hospital is the first in country to screen pregnant women for birth defects brought on by drinking alcohol

One of the demonstration dolls showing the effects of drinking alcohol when pregnant

A hospital has become the first in the country to screen mums-to-be for birth defects brought on by alcohol consumption.

Tameside Hospital is leading the way in pioneering a new approach to highlight the dangers of drinking in pregnancy to unborn babies.

Alcohol consumed by mums-to-be is the nation’s leading preventable cause of birth defects, with an estimated one in 100 babies born with alcohol-related damage according to the World Health Organisation.

Now, Tameside’s HALS (Hospital Alcohol Liaison Service) and the maternity unit have developed a new programme to track the drinking habits of mums-to-be, which includes the use of hard-hitting ‘demonstration dolls’ which show the effects of drink on babies in the womb.

As well as being able to send out a clear ‘no alcohol equals no risk’ message from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy, the new pathway aims to cut preventable birth defects by recording a woman’s drinking in the child’s medical notes – aiding any future diagnosis.

One of the dolls showing the malformation in facial development that can occur if a woman drinks in early pregnancy.

Staff will use the demonstration dolls, showing the malformation in facial development that can occur during early pregnancy, as a training resource.

Features include small eye openings, a smooth wide philtrum (the vertical groove between the base of the nose and the border of the upper lip) and a thin upper lip.

Kerry Lyons, who heads up the HALS team, said: “When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her developing baby. Any amount of alcohol, even in one glass of wine, passes through the placenta from the mother to the growing baby.

“Developing babies lack the ability to process, or metabolise alcohol through the liver or other organs. They absorb all of the alcohol and have the same blood alcohol concentration as the mother. It makes no difference if the alcoholic drink consumed is a distilled spirit or beer, or wine.”

Tameside Hospital’s HALS team (left to right) Anita Fleming, Mags Deakin, Kerry Lyons, Ann Taggerty and Nicola Horrocks

Kerry said part of the programme is to dispel myths surrounding drinking in pregnancy, such as the common held view that Guinness gives you iron – when in reality a woman would need 148 pints of the beverage to get her daily requirement.

She added: “Alcohol is toxic to a developing baby and can interfere with healthy development causing brain damage and other birth defects.

“Most babies negatively affected by alcohol exposure have no physical birth defects. These children have subtle behavioural and learning problems that are often not diagnosed at all or misdiagnosed as autism or attention deficit disorder instead of one of the Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.”

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Disclaimer:  The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.

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