Gateshead Council has heard an urgent plea for young mums, and dads, to steer clear of alcohol during pregnancy to help tackle foetal alcohol syndrome
A doctor campaigning for women to stop drinking alcohol while pregnant is urging expectant fathers to give up drink as well.
Dr Helen Palmer said men should support their pregnant partners to make it easier for them to stop drinking to prevent their children developing foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
Speaking to Gateshead Council’s families overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday, Dr Palmer said: “Drinking alcohol is probably the most harmful thing people can do in pregnancy but it’s also the most common thing people do.
“If you go to a pub and you do not have a drink you are asked ‘what’s wrong with you then’. There is so much social pressure on people to drink.
“It’s an addictive substance. We need men to support their partners in giving up drink.”
Dr Palmer said some estimates believe up to five percent of children could have FASD.
The rates are much higher among children in care with estimates ranging from 60 to 80 percent.
In the last year almost a third of looked after children in Gateshead have been diagnosed with the condition with others still to be assessed.
Dr Palmer said their symptoms are often misdiagnosed as other conditions such as autism or ADHD meaning children are receiving ineffective treatment.
She cited the case of one girl in the Gateshead area who was diagnosed with an attachment disorder after being adopted.
Dr Palmer said the girl’s symptoms included bursting into rapid rages over trivial matters, a lack of awareness of danger and sensory disorders.
She said: “Because they thought it was an attachment disorder the strategies in place for dealing with her were just not working.
“For example, if she lost her temper, to treat attachment issues you would pull the child in close for a hug, make them feel protected, but with FASD if you do that you will probably get a black eye, the best thing is to give them space to let their feelings calm down.”
The FASD diagnosis came as a relief to her parents and to the girl, Dr Palmer said.
She said: “Her parents now have better strategies to deal with the specific problems and the girl is relieved to know she is not mad, she knows her brain is just different.”
Councillors said they were concerned about stigmatising and labelling people.
Dr Palmer said: “I know it is a shock, but if we know it’s there we have got to change things.”
She also said the UK was decades behind other countries in its advice to pregnant women.
Dr Palmer said: “It was only in January that we finally recommended no alcohol should be drunk while pregnant, other countries like Canada were saying that more than 20 years ago.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves because we have not moved in Britain. We all drink and it’s really hard to think that something we get so much enjoyment from can cause so much damage, we get defensive.”
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.